Esports teams growing in popularity in colleges, and now high schools, around Virginia

MARTINSVILLE, Va. (WDBJ) -- At Patrick Henry Community College, one lab looks a little different than the others.

"This is definitely unique," said Nicholas Haley, "a blacked-out room with a blue lighting trim with a bunch of high-powered PCs."

It typically serves the Patriots' esports team but, this summer, it was also home to PHCC's first esports camp, led by Haley, the team's new coach.

Athletic Director Brian Henderson said it's an exciting time for the program.

"You can come here and not only play on our team, but also maybe get into the game development side of things through the academics," Henderson said. "Those are things that we want to progress to and grow to."

It's not just college students, like those at PHCC, who have access to esports competition. High school students around the Commonwealth might soon be able to compete on e-sports teams of their own.

The Virginia High School League is testing a one-year pilot esports program with interested high schools across the state this year.

If all goes well, esports could become an official VHSL-sanctioned activity down the road.

"Obviously, there's been a few people who have said there's no place for video gaming in the VHSL," said the organization's assistant director for academic activities, Darrell Wilson, "but we look at it just like any other academic activity where it's an opportunity for students to be able to participate in something that they love and are passionate about, and be able to do that in an extracurricular environment at their school."

Haley said bringing esports to high schools creates an opportunity he wishes was available when he was a student.

"Just the idea of bringing it to high school makes me wish I was in high school now because that would have been awesome," he said. "I was in band and, outside of band, I was always playing games with my friends so having the ability to do esports stuff in high school would have been a great experience."

If the pilot program is successful, esports would be considered an acticity under the VHSL umbrella, similar to other sponsored activities like forensics or debate.

But for players young and old, the competition aspect of esports is what keeps them coming back.

"It's a competitive thing, kind of like football or baseball or something like that," said esports camper Greyson Easter. "It's competitive."

"It's like any sport," Haley said. "It's like a basketball game that goes into overtime. It's just as thrilling as any other sport is, it's just in video games."

Wilson expects about 30 to 50 high schools around Virginia to participate in the esports pilot program this year.