An esports club takes shape for high school students at a US air base in Japan

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Esports club members play a game during their first meeting at Yokota High School at Yokota Air Force Base, Japan, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. (Juan King/Stars and Stripes)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — A handful of high school students from this western Tokyo base gathered on Thursday to chart their future in a competitive new endeavor — esports.

Yokota High joins several other Department of Defense schools in the Pacific to create a competitive gaming club. The club’s sponsor, computer science professor Jamey Weare, sees him becoming an academic one day.

“Essentially, esports uses gaming systems to compete against each other,” he told Stars and Stripes during the meeting. “There are already really big tournaments with people playing Call of Duty and things like that.”

Computer science teacher Jamey Weare discusses the new Yokota High School esports club at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022.
Computer science teacher Jamey Weare discusses the new Yokota High School esports club at Yokota Air Force Base, Japan, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. (Juan King/Stars and Stripes)

Originally the pursuit of amateurs, esports has become more competitive with some professional players earning millions in high-level tournaments and the US military building its own teams for recruitment, training, and competition.

Weare said the club is the first step towards developing a varsity team that Yokota needs to compete with other schools in the area.

Schools offering esports programs include Kadena High School in Okinawa, Matthew C. Perry High School at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, both in Japan, and Camp Humphreys High School in South Korea.

“When I heard they were doing it and expanding it, I thought it would be a good opportunity for our students,” Weare said.

About twenty students participated in the first meeting of the club. The group does not yet have an official competition schedule, but Weare said it may arrange meetings with nearby Department of Defense educational activity schools at Camp Zama and Naval Base Yokosuka.

Esports is a rapidly growing industry and last year brought in up to $1 billion in revenue according to the Influencer Marketing Hub website.

Esports club members play a game during their first meeting at Yokota High School at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022.
Esports club members play a game during their first meeting at Yokota High School at Yokota Air Force Base, Japan, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. (Juan King/Stars and Stripes)

Professional esports tournaments give out hundreds of millions of dollars in prize money as the sport becomes more popular. The highest-earning esports team in 2021, Team Spirit, earned $3.68 million for each of its four members, according to dotesports.com.

Money and fame aside, esports develop sportsmanship, problem solving, networking and friendships, Weare said.

“It really serves a different group of kids,” he said. “A lot of these students don’t necessarily play traditional sports, so it gives them the opportunity to get the same benefits that students get from sports, but in a little more supportive environment for them.”

15-year-old Yokota sophomore and esports club member Andrew Quinn, 15, agreed with Weare.

“You know people who aren’t that athletic or don’t really know how to be that social, it’s great for them,” he said.

With COVID-19 restrictions around the world, esports have allowed people to connect in a different way.

“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun for the students,” Quinn said. “It’s a great way to branch out so we all have something to do.”

[email protected] Twitter: @juanking_17

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