Some Palmer High School students have an unusual place to play video games: the classroom.

Esports are  gaining popularity and becoming more lucrative, with some colleges offering scholarships and major contests being played to packed arenas. Palmer High School is joining a trend of schools across the nation assembling competitive teams.

In their first season, the Palmer Moose have three teams: Overwatch, League of Legends and Rocket League. Each team focuses on one specific game. On Monday, Overwatch took on a group from Kaynor Tech in Connecticut and, though Palmer lost the contest, both teams were able to stay in their own buildings.     

English teacher Nichelle Henry says esports give kids an after-school outlet, but they also include students who might not otherwise participate in traditional sports teams. 

"That's really been a wonderful thing," Henry said. "To see students, who were previously not necessarily attached to the school in a school spirit kind of way, engaged in the community." 

It opens up another door for those who like competition. 

"I was a late bloomer. I wasn't very tall, not super good at sports but I still enjoyed it," said junior Tobin Hushower, an aspiring pilot and astronaut. "But esports, I didn't have to be tall or exceptionally strong or fast to play. I just had to have a good brain."

Unlike many video games, which are single player, this is a team sport. It means leadership skills are on display, working with others is paramount and it's a place to learn life lessons.

"You have to be a communicator to do well," said English teacher Henry who, along with chemistry teacher Sarah Kitzan, serves as a guidance counselor, teacher and adviser to the group.

Henry calls the life lessons digital citizenship, teaching students the perils and consequences of poor online behavior.

"They're having fun learning a lot about being a team player. But they're also having to think about how their interactions behind a computer screen will impact the very real person on the other end of the game," she said.

Palmer's esports group practices in the school's computer lab a few times a week and has matches with other teams from around Alaska and the nation. 

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