(reimaginED) – Competitive video gaming has exploded in high schools over the past several years following its official recognition as a sport in 2018 by the National Federation of State High School Associations. High school esports teams are nearly as common as tennis teams, with colleges offering scholarships to students who formerly would never have been qualified for letter jackets.
Capitalizing on that trend and the job prospects created by a booming industry, a Florida private school has taken things a step further by creating a program that will turn gaming into a special academic program.
Montverde Academy in Orlando recently announced plans to open a new gaming academy for its high school students in partnership with Electronic Arts. The California-based company has a development studio in Orlando that makes the popular Madden NFL series.
The academy will operate like the school’s other specialty programs, which include visual arts, theater, music and media arts.
The program, which kicks off in August, will start small with a maximum of 20 spots, with a possible expansion to 40. Students at the school, which has an enrollment of 1,300 from 80 countries in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, will be given priority.
Students in the program will continue to study core subjects but also will take specialized classes related to the gaming industry. Courses could cover such topics as game design theory, gaming ethics, marketing and economics.
The goal is to prepare students for careers in the video gaming industry. The number of new jobs for designers is expected to grow 2.28% over the next seven years, with programmers having the best prospects, with a projected 22% increase in job growth.
Electronic Arts employees will serve as mentors and guest presenters
The school website doesn’t list an esports team on its sports or club pages. However, officials say they plan to start a team. The school already is known for producing professional athletes. Alumni include Ben Simmons, guard for the Brooklyn Nets, and Cade Cunningham, guard for the Detroit Pistons.
“We want to be excellent in everything,” associate head of school told the Orlando Sentinel. “We want to start at the top.”
To do that, Montverde will have to surpass other schools across the nation that already have a head start. Since esports got official national recognition four years ago, 8,600 high schools have established teams.
The Florida Association of School Administrators recently partnered with PlayVS, a Los Angeles startup that provides a platform on which students can play team-based competitive video games.
Proponents of esports say the program helps students learn important skills such as critical thinking and teamwork.
Lee James, a social studies teacher in Washington, D.C., told INC.com he had to do a lot of convincing to get school leaders to approve an esports team. Last year, the team had grown to 50 students, and the school converted an old lab into an esports room.
“I used to be a lawyer, but there’s only so much my words can do,” James said. “Once people see this in action and talk to students about it, they know it’s real.”
This article originally appeared on reimaginED.