Dobson students enjoy their new gaming room.

A sporting renaissance is underway at Mesa Public Schools, and it’s not happening on the sports field but in the digital realm. The Esports program, supported by the district’s information systems and athletics departments, has evolved into a groundbreaking initiative.

Five and a half years ago, the district embarked on a journey into the world of Arizona Interscholastic Association-sanctioned Esports. Keith Bonenfant and Jeremy Knutson, district system support analysts, spearhead the program that is turning heads and captivating the attention of students and enthusiasts alike.

For Bonenfant it’s a passion project, and his responsibilities include configuring gaming machines linked to a sophisticated server that enables the team to effortlessly control game access with a single click. Knutson’s expertise in streaming and audio-visual technology adds a dynamic dimension to the program. 

While the league currently restricts them to three games—Rocket League, League of Legends, and Super Smash Bros—the team is collectively steering towards the future of competitive sport, exploring opportunities to expand their playlist. This expansion aligns with collegiate trends, ensuring students are well-prepared for the elevated level of college play.

"We are several years ahead of other high school programs," Bonenfant shares. Mesa is a leader in the state and on par nationally, according to industry contacts at Lenovo, putting Mesa Public Schools at the forefront of Esports innovation.

The program extends beyond competition, emphasizing community and inclusivity, and is not just for competitive gamers. They aim to reach out to students who may not participate in traditional athletics, providing them with a new activity and sense of belonging within the Esports community.

A critical aspect of this community building is the physical space. Dobson High Schools lab serves as a district platform, while they are in the design phase for a gaming room at Mountain View High School. Dobson’s Esports room has undergone numerous iterations and features touch TV panels for game planning and strategic discussions. The space is divided into casual and competitive areas, reflecting the diverse interests and skill levels of the participants.

Looking forward, Knutson shares that the team is exploring the possibility of students running their own streaming channels, showcasing their gameplay, and creating content for platforms like Twitch or YouTube. For more casual-playing students, we aim to incorporate handheld gaming devices into Esports rooms so they can enjoy a relaxed setting with friends.

"The program is open to all who enjoy gaming," shares Knutson. "Whether students are casual gamers wanting to enjoy a relaxed setting with friends, or serious gamers with ambitions of earning a full-ride college scholarship for their gaming prowess, Mesa has a top-notch program."