Some people believe video games and school are two things that just don’t belong together

However, at St. Louis Park high school, business teacher/esports coach Jake Utities has shown in a short period of time: how successful the combination can be.

“They hit the ground running,” Utities said. “I didn’t really have to direct them too much. They were just excited to finally have something at the school that celebrated them.”

Last year, Utities started an esports program at SLP, and it already includes around 40 students.

“For me, it provides a social outlet,” SLP senior Quentin Cloutier said. “It makes it so that I can connect with people.”

“They’re actually really cool,” SLP junior Michael Ramirez said. “I can’t believe I met them by just joining the club and playing a game.”

It’s been a game-changer for some socially and an opportunity for others to pursue some exciting possibilities.

“There’s esports programs in colleges now so I have recruiters talking to me saying, ‘This is what we can offer,’” Utities said.

“Being good at the game can get me good college funds and actually pay for my college later on,” Ramirez said.

For five hours per week, students practice a variety of games online as teams while still prioritizing school.

“You can play video games and still get your work done,” Cloutier said.

And St. Louis Park is a prime example, winning a national championship in the game Overwatch during their very first season.

“I was throwing pillows. I was running up and down the stairs. I was so excited,” Utities said. “I got on the call with the guys and told them how proud of them I was and how big that was for our program. (And) how big it was for esports in Minnesota.”

Speaking of esports in Minnesota, last year there were just four teams from the state in the High School Esports League.

But this year, more than 20 teams are expected to compete.

“Now there’s talk from the Minnesota sports commissioner that he wants to start looking at esports as a high school sport,” Utities said.

If you attend a school without an esports program, reach out to Utities or another coordinator in your area, and they can help make it happen.

“I hope it’s like basketball,” Utities said. “I hope every school has it.”

Did you know the Vikings made it all the way to the championship game this year? Not in the NFL, but in the booming world of ESports. Last week at the EA Headquarters in San Francisco, they held the Madden Club Championship. The bracket style tournament had a Madden player representing each NFL team. The player representing the Vikings was Ryan Danczak. The former Winona State student won a qualifying tournament held at US Bank Stadium to make it into the national tourney. Danczak, who’s screen name is @Ibestrafing dominated the competition and made it all the way to the title match where he played for a winner’s purse of $100,000. We caught up with him at his current residence in Tacoma, Washington to discuss the amazing run and the emerging state of Esports.