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TEXARKANA, Texas — A Texarkana high school is blending its students' video gaming abilities with academic competition to develop teamwork, camaraderie and strategic skills.

The Leopards E-gaming team at Liberty-Eylau High School is new this fall and currently preparing for its first online competition to be held in the next two weeks.

Rick Allen, who leads the group, said the gamers will play against students nationwide, from the East Coast all the way to Alaska and Hawaii.

"On the East Coast, they have sanctioned some of it," he said. "Those teachers have their own classrooms for it and get a stipend and practices and that kind of stuff. It's treated like a football team."

He said it could soon be treated as such at L-EHS, as well, as they are waiting to hear from the University Interscholastic League if their team will be one of those to compete academically in gaming, like those in the Dallas, Garland and Grapevine ISDs.

Allen said it would mean a lot for the students to compete on the UIL team, which would be categorized career and technology education.

"Typically, these kids have been, they get out of school and go home," he said. "They don't have a lot of in-school activities, so this has brought them a place where they can find people that have the same interests. It provides a sense of community and also for the future, to get college scholarships."

It also builds tech skills, he said, as the students will livestream the games to programs like Switch and YouTube.

"We'll also get into building computers to play these games," Allen said. "We'll get into marketing. We'll get into a lot of different stuff as the program progresses."

He also said that while some don't see the team competing in an athletic sense, the gamers are definitely competitors.

"A lot of people don't think these guys are athletes and as a technical term they're not, but they are competitors," he said. "Their hand-eye coordination is amazing. They can beat anybody at a game of slaps."

The students are using two games, League of Legends and Smite, both of which are non-shooter games. Players use avatars of fantasy and mythological characters with varied appearances, strengths and abilities.

"I really don't want the shooter games due to violence," Allen said. "It's definitely a fantasy game. It's not really realistic and all the characters are very diverse. You've got females, you've got males, different size people and different colored people. It's awesome."

India Ware, the team's secretary, said she has been gaming since the age of seven, when she began playing Grand Theft Auto.

"I prefer shooting games and stuff like that, but I'm still having fun with it," she said. Of her favorite part of being on the team, she said, "I get to play with other people. It's like teamwork at its finest."

Club President Skyler Alderson said the team is perfect for him, because he's been gaming for a very long time.

"I've been gaming since I came out of the womb pretty much," he said.

Alderson's first video game was Crash Bandicoot, which he remembers well, and since then, he has built his technical skills, strategic thinking and teamwork enough to lead the team.

"It makes me feel that I have a group that I can talk to, that I can share my opinions with," he said. "A lot of this is helping other students and me build teamwork skills. You have to cooperate with your team to go here and say 'I need help here, could you get this for me.' A lot of this is teamwork based and I feel that it helps build communication skills."

Allen said that the team is currently holding small fundraisers like candy sales, but that they are also seeking sponsors and working on planning a city-wide tournament.

More information on E-sports is available at www.playvs.com, an organization helping build the infrastructure and platform for amateur E-sports.

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