KHS esports team booming, looking for funds

While some may still argue its legitimacy, esports is growing in popularity.

In it’s second year of existence, Knoxville High School’s esports club has seen huge growth, more than doubling in size.

Ryan Wessling, coach of the KHS esports club and chemistry teacher, tells WGIL that the majority of the students that made up last year’s team were those who weren’t part of many of the traditional activities at the high school.

“We had a survey that we did within our club and two-thirds of the club were not involved in any other sport,” Wessling said. “So this was their way of getting some sort of school activity.

What were 20 students last year has grown to 40 competitors and many more that aren’t competing but still members of the club — making up over 10-percent of the student body.

Some of the concerns regarding esports involve students becoming too obsessed with playing and paying no mind to their education, but Wessling says academic eligibility is still a consideration at Knoxville.

“A lot of parents are like, ‘oh well my kid isn’t going to do their schoolwork, this, that, and the other.’ No, actually at Knoxville, we have them abide by the same athletic rules as all of our other sports. So, if you’re failing a class you cannot compete that week.”

While many area schools are on board with esports, including Galesburg, Williamsfield, and ROWVA; Knoxville’s esports club is finding its way without a central place for the team to play.

“One of the differences between a lot of the schools that are now starting and us at Knoxville is, the other schools have a place for their students to play at the school and Knoxville doesn’t right now.”

There is lots of space the club could play but part of the problem is the equipment to do so. Wessling says that a high-end gaming computer would cost around two thousand dollars per PC.

With funds limited, and grants hard to come by, he says that the 40-plus students are working different fundraisers to help raise the money to get these computers.

“Each fundraiser only gets us a couple hundred. That means we have to do tens of fundraisers. And so the kids are working their butts off to make this happen.”

The coach went before the District 202 Board of Education last week during their townhall meeting to explain the need for funds for the team.

He says that the team has to participate in their own homes, using their own Internet connections. If there are technology or internet problems, that prevents players from practicing or competing. A centralized facility would eliminate that.

Wessling serves as an assistant coach to Carl Sandburg College’s esports team.

The IHSA considers esports a ‘new and emerging sport and activity’ and is currently in the process of regulating the sport for competitive play.

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