PlayVS on Their Expansion Into Overwatch and the Impact of Coronavirus on High School Esports
The challenges of coronavirus have impacted all of esports greatly, and high school esports is no exception. With teens stuck at home as schools around the United States debate the merits of reopening amidst a coronavirus surge, virtual extracurriculars like the ones offered by PlayVS’ high school esports programs are going to become more and more important.
In the wake of news that PlayVS would be expanding their operations to include a partnership with Blizzard Entertainment by adding Overwatch to its list of supported titles, as well as news that they would be offering recreational play in all 50 states and 26 for varsity esports play, we sat down with Aakash Ranavat, PlayVS’ VP of Central Operations.
A Word With Aakash Ranavat
Dustin Steiner, Esports Talk: How has PlayVS responded to the COVID-19 pandemic situation generally, especially given that there aren’t any students in classrooms right now?
Aakash Ranavat, PlayVS’ VP of Central Operations: COVID-19 has had a huge impact on students’ school experience and extracurricular activities. As COVID concerns increase for the fall and traditional sports rework its infrastructure, the value of esports is evident now more than ever. The PlayVS platform provides high school and college students a safe extracurricular environment, whether they’re playing in school with social distancing guidelines or they’re playing at home during virtual schooling.
We offered play-at-home in our Spring 2020 season and plan to continue this in the Fall. Esports will 100% happen in the fall regardless of virtual or in-person school. We’re also building out leagues, additional tournaments and continuing to add game titles, like Overwatch, to our Recreational leagues offering to give students the best comprehensive outlet for creativity and competition. With the lack of other extracurriculars and sports, esports will become an even more important way for students to engage with each other and develop great communication, strategy, and STEM skills.
Steiner: What advantages have students and schools reported to participating in High School esports competitions?
Ranavat: PlayVS’ esports programs brings students together through their shared love for gaming in a safe, educational environment. We’ve heard incredible stories from parents and coaches across the country who say being part of a team has encouraged their students to maintain good grades and class attendance. As some schools move to partial or fully remote learning in the fall, this becomes increasingly important to keep students attending classes and staying engaged, especially when it’s easier to tune out during a Zoom lesson. Some students participating in esports have even become motivated to seek out college opportunities when they previously hadn’t considered it.
Many colleges now offer esports scholarships and we’ve had students earn full-ride scholarships for esports – that’s life-changing! Esports also encourages an interest in computers and STEM education, which can offer career paths in game development, programming, illustration and more. As students dive deeper into the world of esports in high school, they can begin to explore game animation, coding, programming, and other highly desired skill areas. The continued expansion of the esports industry strongly indicates that schools are embracing these programs to boost student recruitment and retention, better prepare students for the job market, and blend on-campus and online experiences.
Steiner: I’ve noticed that other high school competitions and extracurriculars have had to be suspended as a result of COVID and schools being closed. Has PlayVS seen an uptick in participation from students as a result of the COVID pandemic?
Ranavat: We have seen the interest in esports growing to fill the gap from athletics and extracurriculars being canceled or postponed. Esports is a welcoming and inclusive activity for anyone to join, no matter where they are doing their schooling. Students can play as easily in computer labs on campus as they can in their homes. All of our leagues are co-ed as well, so it’s always open for students of all genders to join.
Additionally, students with physical disabilities who may not be able to play traditional sports have always been welcomed in our leagues. We’ve also been partnering with more state associations, most recently Nevada and Florida, to bring Varsity leagues to additional states throughout the country.
Steiner: How are you reaching students without them being exposed to the concept of esports on campuses directly right now?
Ranavat: Esports has always lived online, even when the competitions grew to in-person events over the last few years. PlayVS has a strong online and social community among the players and coaches throughout the U.S. We’re in constant communication with schools, coaches, and students. We also work directly with the state associations we’re partnered with to spread the word about upcoming fall leagues.
Steiner: With the new partnership with Overwatch, will PlayVS have any contact with scouts from the Overwatch League or other professional teams to identify key performers for consideration?
Ranavat: We cannot go into specifics currently, but the Overwatch offering on PlayVS will grow over time in different ways.
Steiner: Do you think there’s a future for high school and collegiate esports in general as a talent farm for professional sports, much in the same way that traditional sports do?
Ranavat: Yes! We’ve seen the exponential growth of esports as an international professional sporting league, so there is definitely opportunity for students who excel in leagues in high school and college to make a full-time career out of it. Students who play in leagues in high schools can go on to win college esports scholarships.
Pending on these students’ career goals after college, there are plentiful opportunities for them to continue in esports, either as professional athletes, working in-house at game publishers, or working within esports leagues on the back-end among other opportunities. Esports athletes, in particular, have gone on to become leaders in the industry and even secure partnerships with major brands who recognize them as professional athletes.
Steiner: How has PlayVS worked with teachers to incorporate the lessons learned in esports into lesson plans, if at all?
Ranavat: We don’t work directly with the teachers and coaches to incorporate esports into lesson plans. However, there are plentiful opportunities for coaches to take lessons from our esports leagues – especially in strategy, communication, and leadership skills – and apply them to lessons they could be teaching in history, literature, or other fields.
Steiner: What challenges have there been in working with the NFHS, and is there a chance of varsity esports spreading to all 50 states eventually?
Ranavat: We love the NFHS and have received an incredible amount of support from their team. Since the beginning of our partnership, we’ve seen NFHS embrace esports and learn absolutely everything there is to know about it. In fact, the NFHS now has an entire team that’s dedicated to helping PlayVS. We want to bring PlayVS to all 50 states and even expand internationally.
Steiner: With Overwatch now in PlayVS’ stable, will Blizzard’s other games be following? How would 1v1 games work in your structure?
Blizzard Entertainment is a great partner and we will be announcing several new titles over the next couple of months. PlayVS focuses on team-based games since esports is inherently a team sport, so we don’t have plans for 1v1 game structure at this time.
Steiner: How does PlayVS handle competitive integrity with everyone being remote during the COVID pandemic?
Ranavat: PlayVS provides a safe and educational environment, with a coach, to ensure players are competing within sportsmanship guidelines and academic standards. We support the coaches and captains to maintain competitive integrity and ensure protocol is being followed by all players. Even when students are playing remotely in their own homes, we work with coaches to develop guidelines for monitoring screen time at home, scheduling game time/practice, as well as screen-free times