New esports afterschool program fosters healthy competition and computer literacy

Middle and high school students in the Hoffman Estates area can now practice competitive video gaming and increase their computer literacy, thanks to a new partnership between NIU Esports and the Hoffman Estates Youth Commission.

The two organizations have enlisted Hoffman Estates native Evan Reeves to offer a free after school program introducing students to competition play and computer coding using the game Overwatch. In this eight-week program students will also learn about career paths in gaming and esports from industry guest speakers.

Reeves says he is excited to bring this program to students because of the sense of belonging that comes from being part of a team.

“I really hope that this program is able to show students that, even if you’re not necessarily into traditional sports, like football, basketball or baseball, there are still activities to do with a group of friends to compete and have a place where you belong,” he says.

In the program, students will form teams and participate in scrimmages under the guidance of a coach and with support from the NIU Overwatch team. Reeves says that by engaging in this competitive play, students will gain many of the same skills and character traits promoted by traditional sports.

“Teamwork, communication, dedication, ethics – these all apply to the burgeoning field of esports, or competitive video gaming, which is accessible to people who may not be able to play a traditional sport,” Reeves says. “This is a way to be part of a team and still experience all the same positives and all the same skills you see in team sports, but in a setting where some students might be more comfortable.”

In addition, students will have a chance to increase their computer literacy by practicing basic computer coding within the Overwatch game.

“One of the nice things about Overwatch is that they’ve added what is basically a script editor that allows you to go in and change different variables and characteristics of how the game works, which allows you to create different game modes,” Reeves says.

Students will get to see firsthand how computer coding influences the world of the game, and they’ll be able to use their coding skills to set up practice drills.

Reeves, who works as a quality assurance technician for the Illinois Department of Transportation, says he uses computer coding skills both in his job and in his avocation as an event manager.

“Having a background in coding is beneficial for everyone,” he says. “Whether you’re working on websites in HTML or interacting with a database, it’s just a life skill that is becoming applicable no matter what job you have.”

Reeves says Overwatch is a game that appeals to a wide audience, and he hopes it will help to encourage a diverse group of students to try esports.

“Overwatch has a very broad appeal across a number of age groups and genders because it’s not an ultra-realistic military game that focuses on violence,” he says. “Overwatch really feels like a comic book or anime. It has very developed characters with very pronounced personalities, and there are a plethora of characters that each touch on different backgrounds. You have characters that are straight, you have characters in the LGBTQ community, you have characters of different nationalities from around the world. There’s a different character that everyone can find to resonate with.”

The program is free, with room for 12 students to register for the first session. If more than 12 students sign up, participants will be chosen by lottery. The meetings take place on Tuesdays, January 16 through March 3, from 5 to 7 p.m. at NIU Hoffman Estates, 5555 Trillium Blvd., Hoffman Estates, IL. Register now at gginit.org.

To register, visit gginit.org. With questions, contact Evan Reeves at info@gginit.org.

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