McALLEN – To say over a hundred kids woke up on a Saturday to play video games isn’t a revelation, but to say over a hundred kids woke up on a Saturday to play video games at school might be.
McAllen Independent School District hosted 126 student gamers in the valley’s first school-sponsored eSports tournament, an idea crafted by McAllen ISD Superintendent J.A. Gonzalez after he heard scholarships were offered for gaming.
“When you can wake up 126 kids on a Saturday to come play, we know we are off to a great start,” Dr. Gonzalez said after watching the grande finale and crowning the tournament champion. “We have a level of respect for eSports and we know how big it is worldwide.”
Players from McAllen ISD, San Benito ISD, Weslaco ISD and Mission ISD competed on the popular cartoon-fighter game, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Participants went head-to-head in a bracket-style competition, which ultimately ended with Nikki Rowe High School Students and Brothers Sergio and Derek Lopez in the final.
Like their casual couch play at home, the older brother, Sergio, got the win.
“It pretty much worked out exactly how it would have at home,” Sergio said with a smile. “I hope this all continues to grow.”
McAllen ISD plans to grow valley eSports but, like this first tournament, they won’t plan on doing it alone.
Representatives from the U.S. Army eSports Team were on hand in an effort to bridge the gap between members of the military and students.
Club eSports at UTRGV also played a pivotal role in planning and organizing the event. Club eSports Vice President Alex Hernandez spearheaded the efforts, a role he was quite familiar with at McAllen High School.
“I am a McAllen High alumnus,” Hernandez said. “The club that started all of this stuff… I was the [original] vice president.”
Hernandez first brought tournament eSports to McAllen High when he was a junior in high school. His first effort to run a tournament did not go as planned, but the attempt did spark an idea.
“[My friend] and I looked at each other and said, ‘yeah, we’re going to start a club,” Hernandez said with a smile. “The club has grown ever since.”
He now has the district’s full support, and both expect the RGV eSports program to double, triple and even quadruple in size as more and more tournaments are developed.
“The end goal is probably to create a league for the high school students across the entire RGV,” Hernandez said.
There are no set plans for a next event, but McAllen ISD will implement gaming programs into both their Middle and Elementary Schools by 2021.