For some people, high school’s social structure can be trying as students struggle to find those they get along with.
A Gibault Catholic High School club aims to give students who may not participate in many other extracurricular activities another avenue to make friends.
That group is Gibault’s gaming club.
“It’s definitely an outlet,” gaming club sponsor Arron Martel explained. “It’s definitely a way to find friends with common interests. It’s definitely a way to fill that niche that may have been missing because there are students who may not gravitate to anything else, but they definitely feel at home here.”
Martel, who teaches chemistry and physics, started the club after he came to the school in 2015.
A board game club already existed, so he modified it to include video games.
“It was something I thought was more interesting and wanted at the time,” Martel recounted. “I did try to introduce a few board games, but people more or less gravitated toward the video games. So, it pretty much became exclusively that.”
Martel also had an interest in gaming and he knew he could access the resources and materials he needed.
That includes a Nintendo Switch, a gaming console that up to eight people can play on at once.
Students play Super Mario Smash Bros. Ultimate on that system, using Martel’s classroom interactive whiteboard. They also play Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U on another TV.
Those are the main games students play, but Martel said he is open to trying new ones.
Ideas for those could come soon for the club, which meets Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, as it has seen an increase in membership.
It now has 16 students, with more likely to join.
“We had a lot of freshmen join this year, which is very encouraging,” Martel noted.
Although the club is geared toward a casual experience, Martel said he would be open to making it more competitive with tournaments.
He also would be open to forming an Esports team, which is a competitive video gaming team.
The Illinois High School Athletic Association currently has a committee charged with developing recommendations on a format for a potential IHSA Esports State Series and State Final in the future.
“I’d definitely be interested in that if the opportunity became present,” Martel said, noting students have also expressed interest.
That comes at a time when Esports is becoming more mainstream, with tournaments televised on channels like ESPN and Disney XD.
Professional gamers’ salaries vary depending on the game and success, but players typically make a lower middle-class level salary that can be augmented by thousands or even millions of dollars from prize pools at tournaments.
Those who eschew the competitive route and instead live stream, which means playing video games for viewers online, can make similar amounts of money.
The most successful streamers have monthly incomes estimated in the six or seven figure range.
Even if Gibault students never reach those levels of success, Martel said the club still benefits them.
“It just gives them a way to come in, relax a little bit, have some fun and meet some people through it who share a common interest,” he said.