Camps and sports leagues are an essential part of most childhoods. You get out of the house, make new friends, build skills and improve yourself as a person. This rite of passage for kids and teens has been slowly replaced by summers of gaming, climbing the ranked ladder and practicing the perfect Jhin ult. What if there was a way to bring both experiences together? House League Gaming, an organization in Toronto, has decided to tackle that question. House League Gaming offers a 14 week league, complete with playoffs, custom jerseys and coaching. Red Bull eSports spoke with Eric Somerville, one of the coaches, about how this organization may be grooming the next generation of potential eSports pros.
The league itself is a simple concept, according to Eric. "The concept of House League Gaming is essentially that esports lacks that fundamental base layer you find in traditional sports, where young people can get together and have an organized league where they can play each other in person." This is a structure very familiar to those who have played in traditional sports, and Eric acknowledges this as a main source of inspiration. "At the high level, eSports has imitated the traditional sport world very closely, but there’s a missing gap in how players rise to that level. They kind of rise to that level and fight their way through online solo queue."
Not just anyone can serve as a mentor when it comes to navigating the world of preparing for a potential pro career. House League Gaming’s coaches have a background that ensure they’re up to the task. "The team comes from a variety of backgrounds, but everyone on the team has worked with youth. Some of us come from the camping world, and have been mentors to youth there," Eric says. "We all have a background in traditional sports as well: soccer, volleyball, rugby. It’s influenced the way we see the world and our ability to work with others in a productive fashion. In parallel, we’ve been huge gamers since we could hold controllers."
House League Gaming came about when the team noticed that there were masses of gamers who wanted to begin their journey to the big leagues, but lacked the necessary foundation. Eric spoke about the initial realization that sparked the idea for House League Gaming as a whole: "We noticed while playing online that there are gaps in things like sportsmanship online. I think, in part, that comes with the medium of the internet and being disconnected from who you’re playing against or with."
He continues, referencing his experience in traditional sports: "It’s also because there’s not that guidance you’d get when you’re playing on the soccer pitch and your coach is standing there and gives you a little more of a hand in playing in a sportsmanlike manner. We just really wanted to combine those worlds. We’ve spent decades playing organized sport, and playing eSports, so we thought they should come together."
It’s a natural solution for the modern world. Kids in Toronto aren’t as interested in picking up a hockey stick and heading out to the streets to play hockey, deterred only by nighttime and passing cars. Instead, they’re more interested in shooting for Challenger (or at least succeeding in their promos to Gold).
So, what’s it like for the players who will be competing in House League Gaming? "We have coaches for our teams who are going to be working on skill development, and honestly, character development, from the base level," Eric explains. "We’re going to organize teams to play each other a fourteen week season, have a playoffs and learn to play with each other in an organized sport fashion."
From day one, the coaches at House League Gaming focus on improving a player’s interpersonal skills and giving them the structure they need to succeed. "Immediately, you’re matched up with a team and a coach. You spend some time with them to understand what role is gonna be best for you. The coaching is up to the individuals we screened and put together. We’re gonna be fostering an overall culture of positivity. You want to focus on your own performance, and encourage your team to do better. That’s the framework you want to work in."
While gamers in Toronto are excited for the possibility, it can be tough to get parents on board. Luckily, House League Gaming has figured out an approach. "There are a couple of ways you can approach it with parents. Your kids are gonna be playing these games anyways. There’s no way to avoid that unless you have a draconian homelife. So why not let them play it with an environment that lets them make friends and gives them guidance?" Eric says.
If that doesn’t appeal to Mom and Dad, Eric suggests taking a slightly more mercenary approach. "Esports is a growing international sport and a growing career path. There’s some great little documentaries out there we like to recommend, or we point out a few stats. It can be a mind blowing fact to them that this is a professional sport now and people can make serious salaries. Once you give them those facts, they open up to the possibility."
House League Gaming is just one of many youth leagues springing up around North America. Eric isn’t surprised or intimidated by the competition across NA. "It’s just a natural void that has to be filled at some point. The players are out there. They just need organization and guidance and they’ll be able to do that much better. There are other organized leagues around that have great potential. We’re very excited to kind of help further eSports into that sort of legitimate, or mainstream, field."
House League Gaming’s first season begins in 2017, with a youth division for players between 10-16 and a 17 and up division. The organization offers a comprehensive package for players, including everything from a team to a jersey. Players in Toronto still have time to register for their first season of competitive training at House League Gaming’s website. While traditional sports like hockey will always be part of Toronto’s DNA, House League Gaming offers an alternate path to the kids who just aren’t interested in fighting over a puck.