Debate resurfaced for PENNCREST School Board members on Monday regarding the viability of esports as an official district club.

Recent Saegertown Junior-Senior High School graduate Braeden Kantz gave a presentation to the board in favor of PENNCREST sanctioning an official esports club, providing funding for equipment and securing staff supervision. Kantz also volunteered to host a districtwide esports tournament over winter break to gauge skill and leadership capabilities of the competitors.

Electronic sports or esports is the umbrella term for a group of video games designed to be played in competition with other gamers throughout a state, a country or in many cases, across the globe. Some of the most popular esports games include League of Legends, Overwatch and Fortnite.

Kantz's proposal to the board included a price breakdown of equipment totaling more than $4,600 per school or just over $14,000 in upfront costs districtwide. He was also confident that after a few years, sponsorships would aid in covering the costs associated with the club.

Kantz also cited the recent phenomenon of esports and its widespread popularity, particularly Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf, a 16-year-old high school student from Montgomery County who recently won more than $3 million at the Fortnite World Cup in New York. Also noted was the fact that the last place finisher took home $50,000.

Kantz also said a survey of Saegertown students conducted by the student-run school newspaper, The Panther Press, found approximately 55 percent of those polled said they would be interested in an esports program as a competitive club. He also said Iroquois High School in Erie County held the first local esports high school tournament in May with teams from Bradford, Erie and Warren counties participating and that PENNCREST could enforce academic eligibility standards for team members like other sports.

The presentation follows divided board conversations last spring on the subject of esports. Board member Tim Brown said he was initially "on the fence" regarding esports, but after doing research found it to be an outlet for student camaraderie.

"I think it would really make us look bad if we don't pursue this," Brown said. "I'm not a gamer, but you guys are. This is the generation at hand, and this is what you guys are into. Personally, I think we're being old and ignorant about it. This is our future. We need to embrace this."

Board member Robert Gulick disagreed, claiming he would be enabling addiction to video games. He also said he didn't think The Panther Press' survey results were compelling given claims of esports' popularity.

"I also think there's a reason why no other Crawford County school has approved this yet," Gulick said. "Because it's not a good idea."

Board member Jason Bakus urged caution in starting a club that had such high costs for equipment, especially if many students wanted to participate.

District Superintendent Timothy Glasspool said if students wanted to get together once a month at the school and play esports with supervision and their own equipment, it wouldn't be considered a board issue. But he was concerned about a monetary divide.

"We could run the tournament with very little cost," Glasspool said. "Kids could bring their own things in. What I don't want to happen is 'the have and have-nots.' A kid shows up with a $3,000 gaming system, a kid shows up with a $300 Xbox. That's where the district would want to offer something for that student."

Kantz confirmed that his proposed budget had regulation equipment included and would not need anything beyond what was set out, which included eight PlayStation 4 consoles.

Board member Luigi DeFrancesco said the district shouldn't "spend one nickel" on esports because of the sometimes violent content and said there was current policy in place for students to reserve rooms. He also said comparing athletic sports to esports was "nonsense" and did not contribute to sound minds and sound bodies.

Iroquois High School's tournament was attended by legislators and soon after the secretary of education spoke to students at the school, garnering positive publicity, according to PENNCREST board member Jeff Brooks. He also found invalid the idea that PENNCREST should not fund esports because there's already so much money invested at the professional level, comparing it to not funding football because the NFL rakes in profits.

"I think at some point we have to make a decision on it and move forward or not," Brooks said.

If there were to be an official district-funded club, Bakus said, he believed there needed to be more information and research provided to get the votes needed to approve it.

It is unknown at this time whether the board will vote on a potential esports club in the near future.

Tyler Dague can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at tdague@meadvilletribune.com.

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