With the development of new technology comes new opportunities — ones that are coming to Perham. Esports, competitive video gaming, is the newest opportunity to find the Perham community.
Fenworks, an esports provider, already had an agreement to bring this activity to Empowering Kids in Perham, a nonprofit autism program. Following this, Fenworks CEO Kaleb Dschaak recently presented at the Perham School Board Meeting on the evening of Wednesday, Sept. 8, in an effort to bring esports to Perham schools.
After hearing what Dschaak had to say, the Perham School Board approved esports for teenage students. They hope to partner with Empowering Kids in an effort to split fees and provide students with needed technology and accessibility.
Christi Stoll, general manager at Empowering Kids, said the esports program is expected to begin in December. While the 2021-22 school year will provide a more in-home setting for these activities while they get the program on its feet, they plan to conduct a survey on technological and financial needs of children in order to accommodate those who lack access to needed equipment in the future.
"Even though esports sounds different, and it challenges what we know about technology and devices, it's thinking differently about activities," Tiffany Tobkin, Empowering Kids director, said at the School Board Meeting. "We know other activities such as sports, speech, robotics — they have evolved over time. (Esports) is another way activities evolve in an inclusive way."
Tobkin also said that technology helps people foster connections with others from all over. Dschaak shared a story, recalling that he witnessed two students from different schools talking bout how they were excited to meet in-person at a competition.
Dschaak believes that, through esports, students are able to learn about computer programming, hardware systems, mental health, healthy habits, social skills and even leadership. Tobkin mentioned that students can even receive college scholarships through competing in esports.
Fenworks' esports model offers both after-school and evening programs, so they don't take away from in-person sports. Dschaak mentioned one student who's involved with tennis and golf alongside esports.
Fenworks also offers two different member types: active and involved. As an involved member, a student can participate in esports while still devoting plenty of time to other activities. An active member will dedicate more time to esports than an involved one.
"There are students who aren't engaged in sports, fine arts or clubs," Dschaak said. Different types of games are available to suit students' interests, such as educational games, Minecraft and more.
After a broad survey of students, Fenworks said it found that an overwhelming amount want to be part of an esports program, and 97% of people who participated said they would recommend it to a friend.
"This was supposed to be a pilot program, so we expected roadblocks," Dschaak said. "But the response was phenomenal. It's the kind of feedback we wanted to see to ensure student success."
Fenworks said they make sure to provide a safe and secure online environment only accessible to those in the program to protect participating students. Coaches are also put through background checks prior to being hired. These coaches are also in the top ten to one percent of the respective game titles.
"That's like having an NFL player coach a football team," Dschaak said. Fenworks also offers state-wide competitions, such as a state tournament. There are a variety of titles competitors can earn.
Empowering Kids will be moving to the Hub, a new location being built where the old Perham High School was located, during the 2021-22 winter break. In an effort to support student interest, they will be providing a computer lab. The organization spoke with experts to determine which computers to purchase in order to fit student skills and activities as well as give opportunities to kids who don't have the available technology.
"This will be an inclusive environment for all kids, not just disabled kids," Tobkin said. Empowering Kids hopes to use this computer lab space for esports.
More information on how the program will operate and the partnership between Empowering Kids and Perham-Dent schools will be coming in the next few weeks.