© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2021

NZ's underground world of eSport has surfaced


50 teams from over 40 schools are battling their regions for the chance to reign supreme.

New Zealand high schools have been given their first eSport stage, one that is described as highly skilled, strategic and communicative.

Over 12 weeks, five regional leagues battle each other in a round-robin style to make it through to the national semi final and then grand final, held in Auckland. 

Teams of five compete weekly in League of Legends, one of the most popular online games with 100 million monthly players around the world.

The High School League is the first high school nation-wide eSport tournament, made up of 250 students separated into two Auckland leagues and one each for Bay Of Plenty/Waikato, Wellington, and the South Island. 

TechCafe's National Manager Matt Dawson, which partnered with Lets Play Live to create the competition, said the students involved were grateful to participate in such an energetic and competitive atmosphere, equal to that of any other sport. 

"We had no idea how much attention [the league] would get. We are at this point where other schools are in the wings waiting to fill any gaps that might fall through, and there are schools coming forward that are disappointed they've missed the boat," he said. 

A second High School League would start in July this year, said Dawson, who estimated the number of participants would double.

He said competitions like these invited a more professional style than the often toxic online-gaming attitude he was brought up with.

New Zealand eSport Federation, established in 2016, Spokesperson Duane Mutu said the biggest challenges New Zealand eSport faces is needing Sport New Zealand to recognise it as a sport, but he is confident the High School League is proof of eSport's immense traction and funding will come as a result. 

Cashmere High, Middleton Grange, Christ's College, St Andrew's and Burnside High make up the Canterbury region, with Burnside boasting three teams. 

Burnside science teacher Fin Cresswell said the school could have produced 10 teams. The school had to have internal play-offs just to get into the league.

Cresswell said the league afforded high school students legitimacy for a past-time, which was often seen in a negative light. It gave students an avenue they craved. 

Burnside High student and online gamer Elias Mohammad said it was great to have a teacher putting an effort into eSport instead of looking down on it. 

"It's a good experience for the schools to be adapting to the changes in sport nowadays'" he said, adding it would take a new generation of teachers before eSport was fully accepted in the schooling community.

Cresswell was hoping to push eSports further in the Burnside community, and said mainstream involvement would help people understand the game and large potential of the High School League.