Fairfax High Esports Team Preps for Spring Season Debut
The official start of Fairfax County Public Schools entry to gaming competitions is still months away, but at Fairfax High School, the esports group has more than 200 interested students, and is already the most popular club on campus.
Fairfax High, which had an unofficial esports group during the last school year, is home to staff and students that have helped push the district to consider allowing an esports pilot program, in which competitions should be underway by March.
“It happened very quickly, it is kind of a big shift,” Fairfax High’s esports faculty adviser David Greene says. “Attitudes have changed towards video games, parents are a bit more supportive than they were when I was a kid.”
Greene, and FCPS Director of Student Activities and Athletics Bill Curran, say it’s time to embrace gaming, noting ESPN now covers esports and some colleges are even offering scholarships for the activity.
“I think it’s a way to reach a group of students who may not previously have had an opportunity to represent their school,” Curran says.
Greene, who is a ninth grade English teacher by day at Fairfax High and also the school’s Model UN advisor, agrees.
“I just think it is beneficial for students to be involved,” he says. “I didn’t see myself in athletics when I was in school, many students don’t, but this is another way they can compete and feel a part of something.”
There are plenty of similarities between traditional athletics and esports, Greene adds. “Certainly esports doesn’t involve use of major motor skills, but you do need critical thinking and fine motor skills.”
The Fairfax High esports push gained traction during the 2020-21 school year, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that most students were engaged in virtual learning for the first semester. Students were staying inside more than usual for safety, yet also seeking connection with classmates, which made esports a natural fit, group leaders say.
“It really leant itself to the virtual circumstances, the pandemic made our group a bit easier to get off the ground,” Daniel Jang, a Fairfax High graduate who served as assistant coach for the group during his senior year and is now a freshman at William & Mary, says. “I think it is important to recognize that video games are not just staring at a screen, shooting at things, they are a way to spend time with people, build memories.”
Last year, the team was able to avoid holding tryouts since most video games have an internal ranking system, so players were able to show where they were listed at the start of the club.
The unofficial team played three different video games, and the top eight ranked students for each game were named to the team, with five serving as the starting line-up, and three serving as alternates.
They got plenty of attention.
Morning announcements last year were a bit sparse, with many traditional sports on hold due to the pandemic, Fairfax High’s Director of Student Activities Nancy Melnick said.
“So they would send me the esports scores and since we didn’t have a lot of athletics going on, we would just take them and read them over the loudspeaker,” she said.
This year, talk has turned to more formal things, like whether the team should get jerseys, and if becoming an official sport would mean upgraded computer equipment for practices in school computer labs, says advisor Greene.
FCPS teams will compete in a game called Rocket League, which Greene describes as “a bit like soccer but with cars.”
Ed Lee, a Fairfax High junior who serves as president of Fairfax eSports this year, said last year practices occurred about three times a week and would last for one to two hours.
As president this year, he hopes to highlight the opportunities that exist in esports: college scholarships, industry jobs doing game design, and even professional status for a few elite gamers.
“It’s a big industry, we just need to keep the ball rolling,” Lee says. “Obviously my parents hated me playing video games, but the fact that I helped start a club and was able to get to the position of president, while doing something I am passionate about -- that is something that makes them happy.”