Esports is booming at Bay Shore High School

League of Legends is one of the most popular esports on the planet. Provided by Riot Games

It all started with Chris Champlin wanting to take his sons to a New York Jets game.

A father of two from Long Island, Champlin grew up as a die-hard Jets fan -- his dad had season tickets. But when he asked his teenage boys last fall if they'd be interested in going to a game, the boys asked if they could go to something else instead: a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament.

"First I said, 'Listen, I'm not into it, I don't really know what you're talking about,'" Chris said. "But then I said, 'Fine, I'll take you, where is it?' It was at the Barclays Center, and it was sold out. I had to scalp tickets! I was like, really?"

Ryan, Chris' older son, is an 11th grader at Bay Shore High School in Long Island. He's on the tennis team, but also likes to play video games. While they were at the CS:GO tournament, an ESL One event last September, they came across a booth featuring the High School Esports League, a new company trying to organize high school esports competitions.

One thing led to another. "It started off as a fun little idea on the train ride back," Ryan said, "and then we decided, why not?"

Chris started doing research, collecting a list of articles about esports to present to the school principal.

Ryan collected signatures from fellow students, asking if they'd be interested in joining an esports club.

The principal was willing to give it a chance, and Michael Masino -- the computer programming teacher -- agreed to get involved, despite knowing nothing about esports at the time.

"We had our first informational meeting around the end of October," Masino said. "I wasn't sure what to expect, but I definitely wasn't expecting 127 students to show up, which is what happened. I was amazed."

The club has grown in leaps and bounds in just a few months. Students are now competing in four different games via the High School Esports League: CS:GO, Overwatch, Call of Duty and Rainbow Six: Siege. They play two matches a week on weeknights and Saturdays. The club also gathers on Mondays after school for a weekly meeting.

"I was very surprised," Ryan said when asked about the level of participation. "We got kids who were on the football team, but they also have an interest in playing video games and streaming. There were all these kids who didn't have any club or team they were part of, and they didn't really want to join anything -- and then we created this club, and they got excited."

The students have also taken a field trip to a local gaming center, where they were all able to play together in person for a day. Masino is hoping to do more of this in the future, maybe even at the school itself if they can get some new computer equipment.

"It would be great if the kids could actually compete together, and be together, and give each other a high-five when they win," Masino said.

"For me, that's like the ultimate goal -- to be able to make it more personal, bring it to life a little more," Ryan said. "Especially for other people to understand, like some parents.

"It's one thing when they're just hearing their kid in the basement, or in their room -- it sounds like they're talking to themselves, playing a video game for an hour when they could be doing something else. But then when they really see all the kids lined up on computers, all talking to each other, and now after you win a round, you can give a fist bump to your teammates next to you. It's an amazing experience, it really is."

Even more amazing, perhaps, is that Bay Shore is already hearing from a bunch of colleges -- Harvard included -- that are showing interest in their players and the esports program.

"If you had told me six months ago that colleges would be calling us offering serious scholarships? I still kinda don't believe it," Chris said.

But it's true. High school esports has arrived. Earlier this week the National Federation of State High School Associations announced that it will partner with PlayVS to bring high school-level, statewide esports leagues to its 19,000 member institutions. Additionally, college esports scholarships are available, and Ryan Champlin is among those who have been offered one.

Sounds like it was worth skipping that Jets game.