Video gamers master skills in Mission Heights course, see activity as career path
By KEVIN REAGAN Staff Writer, Casa Grande Dispatch
Teachers normally try to discourage teenagers from playing video games.
Adam Power assigns it as homework.
The Mission Heights Preparatory High School instructor began teaching a new elective course this semester: Intro to Competitive Gaming.
The objective of the class is simple: Train students to be better video gamers.
Students are not given free rein with video game controllers, Power said. Rather, the class attempts to productively break down the fundamentals of being a skillful player.
“We’re turning it into something analytical,” he said, “as opposed to just getting together, screwing around and wasting time.”
Teamwork, communication and stress management are some of the skills Power said he wants his students to strengthen through video gaming and eventually use in the real world.
“All games are about making split-second decisions. ... That’s really kind of what separates good players and bad players,” Power said.
The class of 16 students is split into two teams. Each student must already possess some level of skill with League of Legends, the only game the class currently covers, before being allowed to enroll.
Power said the class doesn’t follow a conventional lesson plan, and he has continued to develop the course as the semester had progressed. He still has students complete traditional assignments such as writing essays.
“I’ve never seen an essay written that fast,” he said, “because the reward is when you finish, you can play some more.”
A typical class period consists of the two teams each sitting in front of a row of computers. League of Legends is an online, multiplayer game in which teams battle to destroy and overthrow each other’s home base. Each team member assumes the role of a specific character, who is given a specific job during battle.
When the class met on Friday afternoon, senior Maria Tecson hastily clicked and tapped away at the computer, doing what she called “long-range damage control” to the opposing team.
Power stood over the shoulders of Tecson and other students, sometimes suggesting new strategies to improve their gaming. He said he tries not to interfere while students are playing, but he’s quick to identify a flaw, the same as when an art teacher points out poor form or technique.
The class wrapped up with students making an entry in their daily journals. Power said he wants students to reflect on their gaming as a means of showing progress throughout the semester.
Tecson, notably the only girl in the class, said she typically journals about her team’s strengths and weaknesses. She grew up playing video games with her father, so her family didn’t discourage her wish to enroll in the new class.
Tecson hopes to someday graduate college with an art degree and go on to design video games. Senior David Alderete, a member of Tecson’s team, also has ambitions to pursue a career in graphic design. He said Power’s class has so far helped him be a better collaborator and communicator.
Power also teaches a course on the various types of game design. In this class, students learn the mechanics of developing narratives and characters for the standard video game.
Power’s background is in game design. He graduated from The Art Institute of California in San Francisco and briefly worked at the video game company Electronic Arts Games before becoming an educator at Mission Heights four years ago.
The world of competitive video gaming has evolved rapidly in recent years, so it was Power’s dream to configure a class that could allow students to get better at the trade.
The idea originally began as a club, and students met after school to play games such as League of Legends. Turning the activity into a class came after Principal Drew Goodson noticed how mainstream competitive gaming had become around the world.
He knew students at his school were already passionate about video games, so Goodson wanted to try developing a course that could energize their interests and possibly help them in competitions with other schools.
Power said there is more potential for students to earn substantial amounts of money from playing videos games. He doesn’t necessarily want his students to become professional gamers, but if playing well could earn them some money for college, then he sees it as a win-win situation.
Six Arizona State University students each won $75,000 this month in a national League of Legends competition that consisted of 480 teams from across the country. ASU also offers scholarships to students pursuing careers in computer and video game arts.
Senior Matt VandeZandchulp wants to study biological sciences at ASU in the fall and hopes that taking Power’s class will help him nab a gaming scholarship at the university. He just joined the class so he must go through a probationary period of observing other players before being placed on a team.
Mission Heights plans to offer an Advanced Competitive Gaming course next semester for the students currently enrolled in the introductory class. Power said he thinks that as the stigma associated with video games starts to wane, other local schools will implement courses similar to his.
“I would like to just see more schools do this,” he said. “These kids want to do it, and some of them are very talented but will never know it.”