DENVER (KDVR) – Colorado has crowned its first-ever CHSAA-sanctioned esports state championship team, revealing that high school students from across the state, with skillsets in an undeniably growing competitive discipline, are getting more opportunities to represent their schools.

On Dec. 2, Cherry Creek High School students Zirui Parkhouse-Song, “Five” Cawley and Jasper Kaminsky overcame their No. 4 seed ranking in the CHSAA-sanctioned Rocket League Championship to become the first official title-winning team in state history after beating the No. 1 ranked team Rocky Mountain High School.

But much like many things in their first official year of existence, the majority of the public may be a bit naive as to what things like esports, Rocket League and League of Legends actually are.

That’s why FOX31 spoke with the coach of the winning Cherry Creek High School team and sitting member of the CHSAA Advisory Committee related to esports, Alexandra Bak, to gain a clearer perspective on this sport that is expanding in stature with every year that passes and with every scholarship that’s awarded.

Esports: Becoming a CHSAA-sanctioned sport

Despite this being the first official season under CHSAA, esports in Coloradan high schools has been in a three-year trial period. Bak, the first-ever esports championship-winning coach in Colorado history, told FOX31 that during this stretch, several titles were claimed by her school’s teams.

Colorado 1st ever CHSAA sanctioned esports championship
Colorado 1st ever CHSAA sanctioned esports championship

However, these championships were won when esports hadn’t yet been fully absorbed into CHSAA, so therefore they didn’t yet count in the same way a basketball, baseball or soccer championship would. This is despite the fact that playing these team-focused video games also requires effective communication, fast twitch muscle ability and general visual acuity in order to climb statewide and global leaderboards.

Now, thanks to esports gaining the accreditation required under the state education body focused on sports through efforts from people advocates like Bak, similarly to the Cherry Creek High School football team that just won their own state title, esports-championship-winning teams can now be honored with title banner raising ceremonies.

Games currently played in CHSAA-sanctioned esports competitions

“Colorado is one of the states leading the way in the way in the growth of esports nationally. We have teams in over 100 schools across the state, with more and more joining each day,” Assistant Commissioner with CHSAA, Rashaan Davis, told FOX31. “Not only are we seeing the growth of the sport, but we have teams that are nationally ranked, along with individual players who are receiving college scholarships.”

2022 esports Rocket League state champions, Cherry Creek High school
2022 esports Rocket League state champions, Cherry Creek High school
(Credit: Brad Cochi/CHSAANow.com)

The specific video game that Cherry Creek High School won their championship in is the soccer-style vehicle game known the world over as Rocket League. However, it’s not the only game played by high school esports teams in Colorado.

Like all other sports played under CHSAA’s umbrella, esports must also fall into the two-season high school system. Bak outlined the current system where only certain game titles are played during the fall and spring seasons, which you can see broken down below:

  • Fall season video game titles
    • Rocket League (vehicular soccer game)
    • League of Legends (multiplayer online battle arena video game)
  • Spring season video game titles
    • Mario Kart (you should know this, look it up otherwise)
    • Super Smash Brothers (platform fighting game series)

This school season’s League of Legends state championship was won by the Grandview High School team.

Bak mentioned that additional games including Overwatch and Splatoon may eventually be added to the list of games officially sanctioned by CHSAA.

Esports, Scholarships, and Beyond

Some may have been incorrectly wondering how those playing a video game can be counted among other athletes, but that would be a short-sighted assumption. Bak, a self-proclaimed gamer, had the plan to get esports recognized as an official high school sport before her arrival.

During her time at Cherry Creek High School, she has seen 20, that’s right, 20 scholarship offers come in for her esports students, six of which have accepted those offers.

One of those accepted offers, fascinatingly enough, wasn’t to be a collegiate gamer, but rather an esports commentator. Bak mentioned it is difficult to find recruits who can talk about the nuanced gameplay with ease while at the same time being a big and captivating personality that will draw in viewership.

Some of these smaller schools cannot compete with those that have developed successful football programs over extended periods of time, so smaller institutions, like Grand Canyon University, are trying to get ahead of the curve when it comes to building a successful esports program.

As she nears her sixth year with Cherry Creek High School, it’s safe to say Bak has played a major role in these achievements by bridging the gap between CHSAA, the players who want this sport to grow and the group that runs the gaming platform that all high school esports championships must be played on, PlayVS.

“The efforts of esports coaches and administrators to bring this competitive activity to the forefront and support its continued growth must be recognized and celebrated,” Davis said. “I can’t wait to see how this continues to grow in the coming years.”

In what is an undeniably significant moment resulting from the efforts of Bak and many advocates like her, sometime in mid-December, a ceremony will be held honoring the championship-winning run of the Cherry Creek High School football team.

Standing equally at their side during that same ceremony will be the Cherry Creek High School Rocket League State Champions, in an indication that esports is no longer just a social club activity, but instead is becoming a more solidified aspect of high school sports culture.