The World’s First-Ever Middle School E-sports League Mixes Physical and Virtual Play

January 31, 2019, 10:40 PM UTC

A new e-sports league for New York City middle school students is aiming to strike the right balance between screen time and the actual sort of play time children had long before video games came into the picture.

Four New York City schools in Upper Manhattan now have what is believed to be the first-ever middle school e-sports league in the city and perhaps in the United States. While the gamers hone their techniques in a classroom, they also spend the second part of their practice outside putting what they learned in the virtual world to the test in the physical world.

On Thursday, the pre-teen gamers practiced how to pick and roll, an offensive play in basketball, in the video game NBA 2K. They then went to an actual basketball court, where they practiced the play—and got some exercise. The e-sports league is being run by Kids In the Game and the Laureus Sport For Good Foundation’s Innovation Grant.

“Sports are an undeniable vehicle for youth development and we feel a responsibility to design creative programs that connect with more kids through sport. With the new e-sports league, we’re excited to engage with students who may not have had the confidence or opportunity to be a student-athlete,” Matt Murphy, CEO of Kids in the Game, said in a news release.

Training as an e-sports player at such an early age could also lead to college scholarships and a potentially lucrative career. Colleges are now wooing e-sports athletes with scholarships. Ohio State University plans to launch an e-sports program this fall, which will include everything from coaching e-sports teams to managing the business and marketing side of gaming. Students can earn a bachelor of science in game design and e-sports.

The earning potential in the virtual arena is huge, prompting some young gamers to turn away from traditional steady majors, such as pre-med, and instead focus on becoming a professional e-sports athlete. The best gamers in the world make millions of dollars, while plenty more make enough money from streaming on Twitch and attending competitions to quit their day jobs.

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