Students from 9 local schools participate in video game tournament hosted by Idaho Falls District 91 - East Idaho News
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Students from 9 local schools participate in video game tournament hosted by Idaho Falls District 91

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Student playing a video game during the Esports tournament at Compass Academy in Idaho Falls Saturday morning. See highlights in the video above. | Rett Nelson, EastIdahoNews.com

IDAHO FALLS – Compass Academy was buzzing with activity Saturday morning as students from six high schools and three middle schools gathered for its second annual Esports tournament.

The competitive video game contest pits students against each other in an exhibition tournament. Participants are divided into teams based on the school they attend. Each team plays an opposing team in their age bracket.

The types of games include a five-on-five shooter game, one-on-one fighting and three-on-three car soccer. See what it’s like in the video above.

Students are competing for the top spot until 5 p.m. and trophies will be awarded to the winners.

RELATED | Idaho Falls School District 91 holds first ever esports tournament and kids love it

Gericke Kohn, the Esports director for Idaho Falls School District 91, tells EastIdahoNews.com this is an invitational tournament in preparation for the statewide Esports season that kicks off Feb. 12.

“The point of it is to build relationships between the schools. We’re trying to build Esports leagues, not just for us, but for the whole region,” Kohn says. “In the state league, we’ll be playing against people from … all over the state. At the end of the season, we all come together for a state championship.”

This year’s event is much larger than last year, which was a District 91 event exclusively. Now with more students participating, it’s the first time teams are competing in the state league, which got started about five years ago.

District 91 IT Director Tito Peredes had been pushing for an Esports tournament for several years and he finally got the school district’s support in 2023 for an initial investment of computers, games and other equipment.

“I didn’t know we had a couple fledgling clubs in some of our schools when we first started. I got an invitation to attend the Boise State tournament and I was blown away with their program and the scholarship opportunities they were providing for kids,” Peredes explains. “I came back here and had some conversations and got the wheels turning (to provide similar opportunities for our students).”

video game controller
Kohn says students develop hand-eye coordination, among other life skills, by participating in this tournament. | Rett Nelson, EastIdahoNews.com

Kohn, who’s been playing video games since he was a kid, got involved as a volunteer coach and he’s enjoyed every minute of it.

Just like contact sports, Kohn says there are life skills students gain from participating in this tournament.

“You’re building a strategy and communicating with your team (about it). You also encounter another team and you develop the way you react to the way they play,” says Kohn. “Learning those communication and strategic skills, and the hand-eye coordination that comes along with it, is hugely beneficial.”

Seventeen-year-old Thomas Christensen from Firth High School participated in a similar event last year, but this is his first time at an in-person state tournament.

An avid gamer since he was 10, Thomas was excited to be involved in the tactical shooter game and he wants to see the Esports league continue to grow.

“I think it’s such an amazing program and I’m really optimistic about what could happen if we’re able to spread the word and get people on the bandwagon,” he says.

He’s considering a cybersecurity career after high school and he feels the problem-solving aspect of gaming is a skill that will serve him in that profession.

“That ability to step back and look at things from a different perspective to figure out a more effective plan … is something that these games, in particular, do very well,” says Thomas.

Braden Moats, a 14-year-old student at Taylorview Middle School, has been playing the car soccer game for several years and when he heard they were putting a league together, he was all over it.

He’s now the team captain, and though he has a few years before he graduates, he also sees some benefits that will help him later in life.

“I’ve thought about going into the medical field as an EMT or something like that (and) the hand-eye coordination (from playing video games could be helpful for that field),” says Braden.

Kohn says “it’s a dream come true” to see this program become a reality and he’s grateful to donors who have provided funds to make it possible.

Paul Gadbois, an advisor for the Thunder Ridge High School Esports team, says they recently acquired a $35,000 grant from the Idaho STEM foundation to provide about 10 laptops for students who want to participate.

In their efforts to make this an official school-sponsored event, Kohn says additional funding is necessary and he welcomes any donations from the community.

“It helps us to keep this going and make these opportunities available for students,” Kohn says.

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