If you are walking the hallways of Cigarroa High School afterschool, chances are you can feel the energy, excitement, and enthusiasm coming from room L-305. Sabas Perez Early College Academy (SPECA) junior Christian Luna and some of his classmates have turned the classroom into their personal gaming room. The teammates are members of the Sabas Perez Early College Academy’s first ever electronic sport team at Cigarroa High School.

As part of a partnership with the Texas Workforce Commission, LISD received a grant to create inaugural teams for Esports within the district high schools which include SPECA at Cigarroa High School, Garcia Early College High School, and Cantu Early College High School at Martin High School.

A few years ago, CHS Social Studies teacher and Esports coach, Jorge Casiano heard that some school districts were incorporating Esports into high school so he stated praying that it would happen here in Laredo. Over the summer his prayers were answered.

“I received an e-mail from Dr. Rocio Lopez, Director of SPECA, that esports are coming to LISD and SPECA at CHS,” said Casiano. “I’ve been a gamer all my life, so I immediately jumped on the opportunity. I rushed over here and spoke to Dr. Lopez. I told her I wanted this job.”

According to Dr. Lopez, when students heard that Esports was coming to CHS they were very welcoming.

“When we first got the idea of esports coming to CHS/SPECHS the students were thrilled.  The craze started a year and a half ago and it's been building and building,” said Dr. Lopez. “They are elated to be doing something different that is a first for our city of Laredo and LISD. So, we’re very grateful to have this opportunity because our students are not only excelling academically but they're also excelling in an extracurricular activity. We are excited for the possibilities and opportunities esports will provide our STEM-connected students.”

“I have been playing Smash Brothers most of my life. When I first heard about it, I was super excited,” said Luna. “So, I am really enjoying in the opportunity to play not only for fun but for our school.”

Just like any other high school sport or extracurricular activity LISD teams meet every day afterschool to practice and discuss game strategies. They also participate in tournaments and competitions just like traditional sports teams. The teams are currently in the spring season competing with the high school Esports league.

  Recently the SPECA team traveled to the Valley and competed in the Region One Competition where they competed against 16 teams and made it to the finals placing fourth.

“This was our first ever competition. There was live commentary, surround sound, and big screens.  Everyone's just watching them play so they were a little nervous.” said Casiano. “It was a good experience and these kids are definitely looking forward to the next competition.”

“I had never competed in person and it was a very different experience that I hadn't felt before. I made it to the semi-finals and everyone was watching. So, it was nerve wracking,” said Luna. “I was very unprepared and inexperienced. I didn’t know what I was getting into. Next year I'm going to be more aware of what's going to be happening. How the conditions are going to be, and what I can expect from the crowds and the people so I can do better with my nerves.”

LISD is currently serving about 85 students who participate in the district’s three high school Esports teams. Each campus has anywhere between 20 to 30 student-athletes who are part of the teams and there's teams for every game and there could be multiple teams for each game.

For the inaugural season teams are participating with Generation Esports Spring League. The league has them playing video games competitively in Super Smash Brothers, Rocket League, and Mario Kart with student-athletes from all over the country.

Before the district implemented the program a survey was sent out. Over 600 responses were received with over 400 saying that they are interested at the high school level.

 “This is something that students showed a high interest and were looking forward to. We’re really excited to have our very first year for Esports,” said Mayra Garcia, LISD College, Career, and Military Ready Coordinator. “Esports is one of the fasting growing high school sports nationwide and it is an opportunity that can provide scholarships and career options for our students. So, we hope that students are able to learn and use it as a platform for their future career goals and aspirations.”

The addition of the Esports Program required a big investment from the district. The $100,000 grant that the district applied for and received allowed for the purchase of gaming consoles, switches, Xboxes, and Play Station 5. Additional equipment purchased included gaming monitors, mouses, speakers, keyboards, and team jerseys needed to participate in esports. The grant also paid for the association with the league where the kids are able to participate and travel for different competitions.

Esports is attracting students who don’t participate in traditional sports teams.

“Most of the kids aren’t very athletic but they are very competitive, intelligent and technical. They might not have those athletic skills, but very good with hand and eye coordination. Gaming provides them this scapegoat to compete. Sports might be their thing but they're very good at gaming,” said Casiano. “Gaming does provide very competitive skills. I see these kids and it’s a perfect opportunity for them to be involved in this school. This is their way to get involved in extra-curricular activities.”

“Being on the esports team has helped me to connect with people who have similar interest,’ said Luna. “We have the same goals and ambitions. So, we’re able to achieve them together and help each other along the way,” said Luna. “We are like a family right now. Everyone is really enjoying it and having a great time. It's something that's been a really good experience for us.”

Beyond the camaraderie Luna say esports is opening up more ways to go to college.

“I heard there's an opportunity for scholarships and many colleges are now looking into esports since it's a new thing that many people are interested in. So, there's a lot of things to gain from being in esports,” said Luna. “I'm looking into studying computer science. So, in the future I'm also thinking of picking games. Apart from scholarships and being able to attend college, I was hoping to seek some inspiration and get some creativity. I’m deciding between games or making new discoveries to revolutionize the games or improve upon them.”

Participating in Esports takes practice, strategy, communications, problem solving, critical thinking and teamwork. Students will learn how to communicate effectively, how to properly behave in team settings, and competition settings.There are also opportunities for college scholarship and careers in Esports.

Through the affiliation with high school esports league LISD has access to their curriculum which allows students to learn more about the gaming experience and teaches them skills that are necessary for the workforce.

            “The High School Esports League provides curriculum on STEM, character building, and communications that relate or pertains to the workforce. The skills acquired through the Esports curriculum helps the students be workforce ready,” said Garcia. “The high school esports league also has scholarships for those students who qualify. So, there are a lot of opportunities for them to continue to use this as a professional avenue after graduation.”

“This is a great opportunity not just for the school but for kids and hopefully this grows,” said Casiano. “I know a lot of kids here, that are not part of SPECA, have been asking me, can we get Madden, can we get these sports. I mean there's a lot of gamers out there who would love to compete.”

LISD hopes to continue to grow the Esports Program and to make it something the students succeed in and earn scholarships in the future.

“If they choose to make this a profession there's a lot of careers affiliated with Esports not just necessarily the playing of games but also the building of games. So, the more you're familiar with the gaming system the more you will become informed about the degrees and careers within Esports,” said Garcia. “We hope that our students are able to enjoy this process and we're hoping to build our Esports program and also include at the other high schools.”