In-person state tournament signals new milestone for Hawaii e-sports

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Video gaming as a high school sport. Decades ago, this would have been a completely foreign concept, but it quickly spread throughout the state.

Esports has gone from a social activity to a taboo school sport, and this weekend, it reached a new milestone with Hawaii’s first-ever state high school athletics championship.

“This is probably the most popular, student-led initiative ever,” said Gabriel Yanagihara, Iolani eSports coach.

Esports was officially recognized by the HHSAA in 2019, and Yanagihara credits the students with their push to make it an official sport.

“Nobody comes up to these kids and says hey your parents or your teachers or your coaches say you should play video games,” Yanagihara said.

“They’re the ones that come to us and say we want to compete, we want to see what we can do and we want to show on a national level what Hawaiian players can do and all we need to do is say yes.”

Over the past several years, this game has continued to gain traction with students statewide. “It’s great that a lot of schools are interested,” Iolani Esports coach Trey Luke said. “There are over 50 schools in Hawaii participating in this project. It goes even further to middle schools as well. There’s obviously a lot of interest.”

Luke has been instrumental in launching esports across Hawaii.

Roosevelt has had a team for the past five years.

They and other schools had to make their case for why it was considered legitimate.

“It requires exactly the same skills as any other traditional sport,” said Mark Kawanui, Roosevelt eSports coach. “Communication, teamwork, dedication. Perseverance, all that stuff, fine motor skills.

Advocates point to a number of benefits including experience in high-stakes competition, strategic planning, camaraderie, and college and career opportunities.

“So they (Iolani esports players) do all the IT work, fix the PCs and networks for all of that,” Yanagihara said. “In addition, they manage all of our website articles, social media, and all of our photography work. Every student that comes through our program can run a full program like this whether it’s related to esports or any other organization.”

After years under headphones and in their classrooms, players are stepping up to another level as hundreds gather Saturday for the first official HHSAA tournament.

“It makes it more fun and more competition between the teams,” said Eden Kobashigawa, a freshman in esports at Iolani.

“Being able to meet other people and being able to compete against other schools is amazing.” Those behind the controls hope this will highlight that e-sports is far from over.

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