Esports is growing in popularity throughout the Magnolia State. Now a state-sanctioned sport in Mississippi, high school students can compete in state, regional and national championships. What are the opportunities like for high school student competitors? Well, they’re endless.
Justin Gough is the esports coach at Pearl High School. Gough also teaches College Readiness Broadcasting and helps his wife coach the tennis team — she is also a high school teacher and the head tennis coach at Pearl High School.
The Mississippi College alumni presented the idea of an Esports team to Pearl High School in the fall of 2019. “This all started with an idea. We had nine students sign up for the team, and they played Rocket League and League of Legends. That first year, they defeated Ocean Springs High School and won state in Rocket League,” Gough shared.
2020 presented different challenges for students and educators statewide due to COVID-19, and Pearl High School’s esports team feared it would shut down. However, due to the nature of esports, it was the only sport that was to be played in Mississippi during the pandemic.
“Our esports team gave our students something to do during Covid and kept them involved with each other, which was really important at that time,” Gough said.
The following year, the Pearl High School esports team grew from nine to 20 members, and as of 2023, they currently have 50 students on the team.
“We won state for Rocket League in 2022 and recently qualified for state and regional playoffs. We continue to grow and now play 10-11 game titles. Some of our biggest rival high schools in Mississippi are Northwest Rankin High School, Biloxi High School, and Saltillo High School.”
“Competitive gaming has been around since the ’90s, and the perception of a person who gamed has often been misconceived,” Gough continued. “The IQ, reflexes, and responses needed to play some of these games are pretty impressive! The gaming scene is growing, and when discussing inclusiveness, our Esports team at Pearl High School includes all students. We have football players, band members, and all kinds of students with different backgrounds and interests, and they get along and enjoy competing together.”
High School esports leads to many exciting student opportunities, including college scholarships, broadcasting careers, and countless gaming and tech industry opportunities.
“I have a student who received a scholarship to play Rocket League at Ole Miss. I also have students interested in pursuing a career in broadcasting, and they announce the games as we play them; there are college scholarship opportunities available for that as well,” Gough said. “We need to start looking at gaming as a more positive thing. If your kids are good at something and are not harmful, let them do it. There is so much opportunity within Esports, and they can get a full-ride scholarship to college.”
Gough shared that the Pearl High School esports team also prioritizes health in addition to their gaming room with all of the necessary equipment.
“We have implemented a workout program that we do regularly. We focus on cardio and lifting. We also have other standards that must be met, so we have seen GPA averages and discipline issues decrease because students want to be on the Esports team.”
“22 million people watched the Super Bowl last year. 457 million people watched the League of Legends World Championship. 90 percent of kids play some sort of game now, whether it’s Candy Crush or something more competitive,” Gough concluded. “We can use gaming to build social and critical thinking skills while providing our students some amazing opportunities.”