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GHSA plans to add varsity esports for upcoming school year

High school athletes in Forsyth County could soon take to the digital playing fields.

GHSA executive director Robin Hines, speaking at the annual Georgia Sports Writers Association meeting on Sunday, said that the organization will add esports to its list of offerings for the upcoming school year, and per Forsyth County athletic director Nathan Turner, the county plans to be involved.

“We can’t wait,” Turner said. “We need the details.”

Many specifics of esports are still yet to be determined – such as the structure of the competition, exactly where and when the competitions will take place, and what games will be involved – but Turner said he has talked to the county’s IT department and received confirmation that it could handle the activity. Turner said the county hopes to offer esports at the middle school level, as well.

Hines estimated that 40 schools had expressed interest in getting involved with the league, which would be run and organized by the California-based company PlayVS. He said there would be fall and spring seasons, with state championships for each, and that competitions would take place online, with teams in different places, and offline, with teams convening in one location.

Esports has a massive following in the U.S. and abroad, with competitions for games like League of Legends and Overwatch drawing large crowds in person and online, and multiple colleges have started sponsoring teams and offering scholarships. Georgia Southern and Georgia State both have programs that compete in the National Association of Collegiate Esports, the main national governing body.

“This is a way for us to tap into a group of kids that may not otherwise be involved in anything,” Hines said.

Hines also spoke about the state’s current classification setup during the meeting, expressing his belief that there are too many classes in the GHSA’s current alignment.

“It’s too many,” Hines said. “I want six, and the only reason I want six is I know I can’t get five.”

The GHSA added Class 7A starting in the 2016-17 school year, and the newly-created Region 5-7A brought all of Forsyth County’s public high schools into one region for the first time. But Hines said that the current alignments demanded too much travel and time out of class for some schools, particularly those in larger classifications further south. The smaller regions formed in the new classifications have resulted in more teams with losing records reaching the playoffs.

“I know if we go to six classifications, we can’t help everybody solve every problem that they’ve got, but we can help everybody a little bit,” Hines said.

However, any reorganization of classes is currently in the hypothetical phase.

“I don’t know what to expect, to tell you the truth,” Hines said. “I theory, I think it’s a great thing for us to do.”