ST. GEORGE — Jared Caplin’s legacy will live on as Southern Utah high schools prepare to launch esports programs next month. The JCap’s Legacy Esports Tournament, to be held Dec. 28 and 29, will raise money for Washington County schools to help get their programs off the ground.
The two-day tournament will feature an unlimited number of teams on day one jockeying for spots in a 16-team elimination bracket on day two. The games played will be Rocket League, a rocket-powered car soccer game, and Call of Duty: Cold War, a first-person shooter. The tournament invites players of all ages and locations to participate, raising funds for Washington County School District’s computer science and esports initiatives and the JCap’s Foundation for Disabilities.
Linda Brown, the Computer Science Coordinator for Washington County School District, told St. George News the money coming in from the tournament is essential to getting the district’s esports pilot program off the ground in January. The district is not directly involved with the tournament. Video game competition is not sanctioned by the Utah High School Activities Association, leaving the schools to fend for themselves financially as they try to catch up with the international trend of legitimizing esports as true sports.
“We don’t have the funding to be able to fund esports with district dollars,” Brown said. “We’re getting no money from the state to be able to do it.”
Brown said that the school district is assisting by providing equipment and computer labs, but this tournament will give them the ability to pay for things like league fees. Since there is no official UHSAA competition in esports, the schools have to compete in independent leagues like the High School Esports League.
The school district is launching its first teams in esports at Hurricane High School and Crimson Cliffs High School. They begin competition in January. It presented a rare opportunity for Alan Caplin to continue the work his son started in 2018.
Jared Caplin was a popular gaming influencer who died in January at the age of 22. He suffered from muscular dystrophy and was restricted to using a motorized wheelchair for the final years of his life. He served as an inspiration for disabled people to be able to make a name for themselves. Caplin spent the last three years of his life traveling the country visiting Major League Gaming events and gaining fame as a superfan.
The tournament that bares the Desert Hills graduate’s name will benefit the school he attended and the others around it. It’s a first step in what the father and son envisioned when they plotted out their plans for 2020 before Jared’s passing: stepping up their efforts to use their platform and the foundation to help people.
“It’s about validating people,” Alan Caplin said. “We want it to work. We want it to help people. We want to use it to make sure people have some choices and a few directions, particularly with kids with disabilities… This is the first step.”
Caplin and Brown both believe in the benefits of esports. It can be a gateway for kids to access computer science and find interest in fields like programming and gaming development. It can also serve many of the purposes of traditional sports, such as communication, problem solving, decision making and team building.
In Rocket League, players use geometry and physics, much like a soccer player would in real life, to navigate a bouncing ball, sometimes in the air, into the net or to a teammate on a pass. They have to factor in variables like ball velocity, gravity, how much boost they have to use to lift their digital car into the air to meet the ball and others. They have to communicate with teammates to make sure everyone is in position and not leaving their goal vulnerable.
Some kids don’t have access to traditional sports for a variety of reasons. Some have prohibitive disabilities. Some can’t afford the gear or travel. Some simply don’t want to risk injuries associated with high-contact sports like football. Brown hopes that esports provides just another avenue for students to get involved and develop skills and traits, regardless of their situation.
“We’re hoping this will be an equitable option for students who maybe wouldn’t play traditional sports but it still gives them the opportunity to develop all the same skills and qualities that come from playing these esport games,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of sportsmanship. There’s a lot of determination, dependability, not letting your team down, hard work, perseverance. There’s critical thinking and problem solving and not giving up on things and just finding creative solutions. There’s a lot to it, depending on what game you’re playing.”
The district is not affiliated with the tournament, but as a benefactor had some input. Initially, Alan wanted the tournament to exclusively be Call of Duty, Jared’s game of choice. Brown pushed for the inclusion of Rocket League, as the schools will not offer war-simulator first-person shooters in its catalogue of games.
While it is broaching this new horizon, Washington County is still behind the curve when it comes to adopting esports. Brown said 15 other counties in Utah have started organizing esports activities. Seventeen states have sanctioned esports through their activities associations, and Brown said three more are on the cusp.
The tide is turning though; Brown said the goal is to work out the kinks with the pilot program in the initial two schools and begin the program in earnest with all seven schools in the fall. Larry Bergeson, superintendent of the school district, is the chairman of the committee to explore the sanctioning of gaming in Utah.
In the meantime, teams will have to take a grassroots approach to funding and organizing. The JCaps tournament is the beginning of that. It does so in a way that honors one of the area’s top esport pioneers and fulfills one of his dreams of making gaming more accessible to high school students at the same time.
The tournament begins on Dec. 28, with an unlimited number of four-person teams in Call of Duty and three-person teams in Rocket League trying to win as many games possible in a nine-hour span to earn a spot in the 16-team seeded tournament the next day.
There are no age or location restrictions on participants. Alan Caplin said he has invited more than 400 high schools nationally and some in England to participate. In the Call of Duty tournament, cash prizes are awarded up to $800 for first place and gift prizes including custom controllers and gaming headsets provided by Scuf Gaming and Astro. As of publishing, about 50 teams have registered, with a spike expected in the days leading up to the tournament.
Registration is $20 per player. Those interested in participating can register their teams here or through Generation Esports’ website. Those not interested in playing but still wanting to contribute can donate to the JCap’s Foundation for Disabilities at jcapisawesome.org.
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