HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Northeast Missouri was introduced to esports -- otherwise known as organized, multiplayer video game competitions -- when Culver-Stockton College in Canton announced in October it was forming an esports program and was recruiting for a team to start playing this fall.
It soon might not be the only local team.
Hannibal Public Schools Activities Director Clint Graham said the school district's athletic conference, and the high school itself, is looking at forming an esports program.
"It's not a matter of if but when," Graham said. "We need to talk logistics and work out details in terms of when it might be implemented."
Even Hannibal-LaGrange University, also in Hannibal, has acknowledged it is exploring esports on campus but has "no solid plans at this time," Vice President for Academic Administration Miles Mullin said in a statement.
Graham said the idea for an esports program developed when he was meeting with other school representatives in the North Central Missouri Conference.
"One of those conversations was ways to get more kids involved," he said. "I forget which school said this, but they said they were looking at an esports club for their school. After doing some research on esports, one thing led to another, and it became apparent this was something doable for our kids."
Hannibal High School already has a popular Gamers Club where students play board and card games, and if it were to create an esports program, the high school already has computers fast enough to accommodate video games, Graham said, adding that "the infrastructure and interest is already there" for the program. Popular video games in which players compete include "League of Legends," "Overwatch," "Hearthstone," "Counter-Strike: Global Offensive" and "Rocket League," among others.
Both Graham and C-SC's esports head coach, Michael Jones, said esports teams aren't just about playing video games. The sport provides many of the same benefits and skills traditional sports do.
"It's still a competitive environment, and you learn teamwork and strategy," Graham said. "There's the social aspect of it, too. You make friends, and it's another way to keep kids active and involved in school."
Added Jones: "A program like this supports students who often don't have outlets to be a member of a team and learn valuable skills students get from traditional sports like communication, group problem solving and conflict management. Many students that play on high school teams would still be playing these games on their own if this opportunity weren't available to them, so it is another way for schools to engage students."
At Culver-Stockton College, the esports team has 12 incoming freshmen and transfer students on scholarships so far. Four of those players are women. Current students will have the chance to join the team when school starts, bringing the total size of the team to between 20 and 30 students.
Jones said Culver-Stockton has been answering questions from a number of local high schools and community colleges about how to best go about starting and supporting such a program
"There is already a strong scene for high school esports in places like Columbia, Mo., and the Chicago area," he said. "As the college scene grows, the high school scene will come along with it."
PlayVS announced in April that it had teamed up with the U.S.' leading governing body for high school sports to create the infrastructure for a high school esports league. The inaugural season will start in October with high school students in at least 15 states participating.
Locally, 20 students stayed on Culver-Stockton's campus for a high school "League of Legends" summer camp in June. In October, the school will be hosting a "League of Legends" tournament for high school teams because of the high amount of interest in esports.
"There are so many factors that make esports popular, but one of the biggest ones is the level of engagement esports provides. As a viewer, you cannot only watch your favorite professionals play with their teams, but you can watch them stream their practice and engage directly with them through text chat and other community functions," Jones said. "Some metrics are showing that video games are already the most popular form of entertainment, making more money than films, TV and music."