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Northern California e-sports league possibly coming to Magnolia Intermediate School

Sam Corey
Staff Writer
Kids play video games at NEO Youth Center in Grass Valley. E-sports is growing in popularity as more youth engage with video gaming and new technologies.
Photo submitted by Halli Ellis

When James Wood was younger, he loved playing video games.

Once, while gaming, he recalled his mother suggesting he go outside and interact with friends.

Wood retorted that he was already talking with peers from all over the world, including Australia, New York and to an English professor in Canada. To this day, he’s remained close with some of his video gaming friends from his youth.

Now Wood, a teacher at Achieve Charter School in Butte County, is establishing an esports league for middle school students under the Northern California Esports League.

Magnolia Intermediate School will likely be the first Nevada County middle school team to join.

“This is another avenue to engage kids in school beyond the school day,” said Pleasant Ridge School District Superintendent Rusty Clark. “This is what kids do nowadays. They play games.”

“I am excited about bringing esports to the middle school realm,” said Vivian McKnight, a Magnolia instructor, in an email. McKnight said she’s in the process of getting parent permission for students to compete.

Clark said students talk about video games daily, and an esports league is another way to engage them. He’s shared the idea with other administrators who appear interested in the program, but are waiting to see the results before promoting it themselves.

The middle school esports league — including Butte County schools, Magnolia and potentially numerous schools in Sacramento — is set to begin in early November and end with a tournament in January.

Wood doesn’t know how many schools, or teams, will participate.

Nevada Union High School freshmen Eric Monax said he would have likely participated in an esports league had it been offered at his middle school.

“Most people that are our age, we’ve grown up with electronics,” he said.


Wood ran a high school esports team for a few weeks out of Achieve Charter School in Paradise. But when the Camp Fire happened, the school moved to Chico, became a K-8 program and the esports season was abruptly cut short.

“The kids loved it,” said Wood, noting that gaming helped increase school engagement during its short existence.

The new league is relatively straightforward. Schools can put forward six teams: three for Rocket League, a vehicular soccer game played on any gaming console; and three for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, played on a Nintendo Switch. Students can compete in both games, which will be held online, rendering team travel unnecessary.

Teams will include an adult general manager, said Wood, and practice logistics will be decided by individual teams and their schools.

“(Esports) is a nice sort of motivator for kids who might not be so motivated to participate and attend school,” said Wood.

When competing, students will operate under a pseudonym online to protect their privacy, said Wood. Voice and text chats will also be disabled.

The league’s goal is “to encourage players to be better online people,” said Wood. He hopes esports gamers become models for how to appropriately engage online, noting that the league will maintain a zero-tolerance bullying and harassment policy.

Wood is encouraging girls to participate, even though, he acknowledged, the gaming community doesn’t always welcome them.

While it’s not off the ground yet, the Butte County teacher has already received pushback.

“‘Video games should not be considered a sport,’” he’s been told by some.

Wood often responds that chess clubs have been in existence for a long time, and people don’t oppose them.

The National Association of Collegiate Esports has distributed $16 million in scholarship money for students to attend universities in Canada and the U.S., according to the New York Times.

“I feel like not adding in esports as an option is a disservice to students who are disinclined or unable to play traditional sports,” said Wood.

To contact Staff Writer Sam Corey email, scorey@theunion.com or call 530-477-4219.


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