Troup’s eSports program builds social skills, finishes top 15 in the state

Published 3:35 pm Thursday, December 14, 2023

The fledgling Troup High eSports team is picking up traction heading into its third season of existence. eSports has a GHSA-certified spring season and fall season and the Tigers made substantial gains during their second season in the fall of this year.

“When I heard that they were talking about starting an eSports team I was like ‘Wait, are we talking about video games or is this something new?” said Chad Hill, a teacher and the head of the program at Troup High.

The program finally got off the ground at the beginning of 2023 when Hill got involved with the program. A self-described lover of video games, Hill jumped at the chance to help get kids involved with after-school activities and help them build social skills — something he feels many young people are lacking — through video games.

“Here in the classroom, they have to be social with each other. And quite honestly, a lot of the guys here did not have a lot of social skills when they first started, they just sit down and they just get mad at each other really, really quickly,” Hill said. “Some of the kids I had in class, and I think the whole time in class for the whole semester I heard them talk like three times if it wasn’t answering a question. And then they come in here, and they’re social butterflies.”

It has been a learning process for Hill, the other coaches, the team, and of course, the parents. Hill has worked hard to break stigmas around video games through his work with the eSports team and firmly believes he has made a ton of progress from when the team first got together to where they are now.

The Troup County School System has been pushing the schools to incorporate eSports teams since 2022. When Hill first got wind of it he was all on board.

“I’m really proud to say this county really was pushing to start eSports,” Hill said. “The reason it was pushing to start eSports was to catch those students who would kind of fall in the gap and not ever really be part of a team or anything like that, not learn that social skill.”

The after-school practices are far from just a few high schoolers hanging out after school to play video games. There is team building, strategizing with peers, troubleshooting technical issues and a whole lot more.

“So first year, it was a nightmare. Parents were just like, I just think he just wants to play video games and that’s when we had such a small, small group the first year,” Hill said. “The second year, I really went about it about this network. And I had one guy, he’s the senior, he’s one of the seniors who brought his PC. So we went through the PC and this is the network card and this is the hard drive and point everything out. It’s not just playing video games, it’s got some of that practical networking and troubleshooting problems.”

The games offered include, but are not limited to Madden 25, Splatoon, Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart and Rocket League. 

Despite the wide variety of games, Mario Kart has been the strength of the program so far. The Tigers had one of their four-person Mario Kart teams make the state playoffs and finished 15th out of 150 qualified teams.

It was in stark contrast from the first season which Hill believes was a bit of a disappointment performance-wise.

“The first season kind of embarrassing because we finished 58 in the state out of 100 teams in Mario Kart,” Hill said. “This semester, we were 15th in the state out of 150 teams.”

The program has made leaps and strides since its inauguration at the beginning of the year. The program went from having 15 participants in the first season to 25 on the teams in season two.

The program is not done growing as Hill expects to field a quality Madden team in the spring and expects his Super Smash Bros. teams to continue to make strides as well. 

Hill is also focused on expanding the program well beyond just playing the games themselves. He sees this as an opportunity to bring new classes and programs to Troup High.

“I would like us to be able to evolve into a way to help teach them like build PCs and network,” Hill said. “ I wish we could bridge the gap into the IT field more. I think it can start here in the school. And that would be the first goal to bridge that gap.”