South Doyle eSports club goes through extra hoops to participate in tournaments amid COVID-19

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – COVID-19 probably hasn’t impacted the ability to play video games too much, seeing as how many aspects of life went virtual due to social distancing.

However, for the eSports club at South Doyle, COVID-19 made competing in video games as a group more difficult. So much so, club members never got to compete their first year joining.

“We raised money last year, and got it sent off, and then COVID hit, and that kind of took away all of our funding,” School Resource Officer Michael Cain said.

Cain started the club last year after seeing an email from the High School ESports League. He knew many students didn’t participate in school activities, but a lot of kids played video games.

“Fortnite and Call of Duty and sometimes 2K,” Tarion Goodwin, a junior and a football player at South Doyle, said.

“I like playing Fornite a lot,” Gwyneth Malton, a senior at South Doyle, said.

“Call of Duty and Fortnite,” Dylan Buckner, a senior at South Doyle, said were the video games of his choice.

“Students might not be suited for basketball or baseball or debate club or whatever and this gives them an outlet to be themselves and just come in and play some video games,” Cain said.

He also had a love for video games. After he emailed students notifying them about the club, more than 90 kids teens joined. Cain said he was so disappointed when he had to tell them that season wasn’t going to happen.

After the new school year started, Cain was looking to raise money so students could actually play this time around.

“A sub here actually started a GoFundMe for us, and then that got a little bit of attention on social media. And then a few other people in our community contacted me and said they would love to help and within like four days we had met our goal,” Cain said.

The money is used for the High School Esports League membership so students can participate in tournaments. Students have a variety of video games and devices to choose to play in order to compete. Cain said this isn’t just some group for students to hang out and play video games, although that is a perk.

“We have a very strict rule of 10 tardies per semester. And we had some kids that had 40 plus tardies last year, dropped down in a matter of weeks to just 7 or 8, which is a huge win for us because it gets them in class,” Cain said.

On top of that, students have to hold at least a C grade average. Esports is also a way students can interact with other students they never would have hung out with before, and compete with other student across the country and world.

Ke’Sean Gillis, a junior at South Doyle, plays basketball for the school and in video games for the eSports club. His favorite game is NBA2K.

“It’s a good community. Like, you can just, you can just be you in there. You can’t, you don’t have to be like anybody else. Just yourself,” Gillis said.

“I’m able to meet people that I normally wouldn’t meet like at school. And we’re able to play video games and talk and like, I don’t know. It’s really fun. I get close with people,” Malton said.

While the students like to compete with each other, those competitions can be good for their futures, Cain said.

“Recruiters for colleges that actually watch them play and then they could actually win a lot of money for scholarships,” Cain said.

Malton said she wants to take advantage of that opportunity.

“I’m super excited to compete and hopefully get some scholarship money because I will be attending college next year,” Malton said.

COVID-19 has changed how the tournaments and competitions will be held, and even practice for the high school club. Due to safety guidelines, they can’t meet after school on campus to practice.

Cain said this year, everything will be done from home, which is actually one thing COVID-19 made a little easier.

Cain said because COVID-19 protocols rely on students having internet access, that meant every student would be able to participate in the eSports club if they wanted to.

Some students thought the more the merrier.

“Video games are fun and I think everyone should try them at least once. It’s great. It’s a great community,” Malton said.

Cain said with the money that was raised, more than 90 students will be able to join and they can even invite kids from the local Boys and Girls Club. He said their next goal is to raise enough money for eSports jerseys.

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