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North Carolina high school students flock to state's first varsity esports and STEM league

A student at Winston-Salem State University competes in an ESports tournament.
Matt Ramey
When they enroll in the NC Varsity Esports and STEM League, students compete in video game competitions like Fortnite or Call of Duty, as well as science, technology, engineering and mathematics areas like artificial intelligence.

There's a new interscholastic varsity sport in North Carolina and it doesn't require students to compete in the same room.

More than 3,000 high school students are enrolled in the state’s first varsity esports and STEM league.

In the program, students compete in video game competitions like Fortnite or Call of Duty, as well as STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) areas like artificial intelligence.

The initiative is a partnership between the state, Charlotte-based Stiegler EdTech and UNC-Greensboro.

David Wyrick, UNC-G’s Chief Innovation Officer, said one of the program’s main goals is to prepare students for the workforce.

“There's a natural opportunity that occurs when you engage students in video gaming to learn new technologies that are going to transfer well into any number of disciplines or career options,” Wyrick said. “But we also wanted to be more intentional about driving that kind of STEM development and introduction into STEM-based and technology careers.”

So far, students in over 40 counties are enrolled in the league. Wyrick said the participating schools capture the breadth of the state, spanning from Elizabeth City to the mountains.

“We are casting a broader net, in different community engagement opportunities,” he said. "It's truly an opportunity to meet students where they are to take advantage of their interest in gaming.”

This year, the General Assembly allocated $15.45 million ($1.45 million recurring) in the state budget to help form UNC-G’s Scholastic Esports Alliance. Wyrick said part of this money will also go to benefit the varsity esports and STEM league.

Brianna Atkinson is WUNC's higher education reporter and 2023 Fletcher Fellow.
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