With the rise in popularity of eSports across the world, the opening many gamers have been craving is now within their grasps. Sensing the time was right, the people behind HSL: High School League are doing something incredible for young gamers across New Zealand, and we wanted to know more.
With us today is a kiwi entrepreneur, lover of games, and one of the minds behind the endeavour, Matthew Dawson, here to tell us exactly what this new High School League is all about.
Full disclosure: Luke Batt was friends with Matt Dawson in high school.
Luke Batt: Thanks for taking the time to answer a few of our questions Matt. To get things started, what is HSL: High School League?
Matthew Dawson: It’s the first NZ nationwide eSports competition, to be held throughout secondary schools. Our goal is to establish HSL as the competition for many eSport competitions moving forward, not unlike what the NPC (National Provincial Championship) is for rugby.
What did it take to get such a league up and running? Did you, or are you receiving much opposition?
It took quite a lot of resources actually, there was a lot of cold calling to schools to find who had teams that would compete. Because eSports aren’t yet accepted as a sport in our country, often finding a member of the faculty who knew about it was hard, and schools are busy. Sports directors would usually be the best fit, but often it was an IT teacher, or in some cases it was like with Stanley Chang from Howick College, the Biology teacher!
How many schools have signed up, and from how far across the country are kids coming to compete in the tournaments?
We have 45 schools signed up, and 50 teams in total. These are split across 5 regions, two in Auckland, Bay of Plenty/Waikato, Wellington, and South Island. We hoped to get an Otago region but didn’t have enough interest unfortunately - Gigatown, we’re looking at you, but Auckland was overwhelming so we added another 10 teams there. Some schools by themselves in Auckland have up to 10 teams that could have participated.
What kind of reactions and levels of interest are you getting from high schoolers?
I’m really impressed by the high schoolers; they are very grateful there is a competition where they can represent their school. Some might also play other traditional sports but some of these kids have no interest in them and eSports is their focus. I’m also finding many people like myself who, when hearing about HSL say “I wish we had that when I was at High School!”
I know I’m certainly one of those people.
How about the teachers? What kinds of reactions or support are you getting from them?
All the teachers are very supportive. We have just finished a podcast with Stanley Chang, the Biology teacher from Howick College, who like many other teachers is passionate about helping his students with a shared interest.
You mentioned a podcast. What can you tell us about that?
Well yes. It was suggested we try doing a podcast to keep people updated with the HSL, and there are great stories we want to share. We aren’t very good yet, but we are trying to make it better each week, and even bring in special guests. It’s a pet project for us, so we have great hope that we can get to a stage of making something that people will enjoy.
What kind of fees are involved with HSL? Are there any costs to the high schools to enrol their teams? Does it cost more to have more than one team compete? Or are there any fees for students to participate?
We don't ask Schools or student for any fees.
What about students who don’t own an appropriate PC at home? Will they still be able to compete?
The student either use PC’s at the School or their PC at home.
Stepping back to tournaments, how exactly does HSL work? With traditional high school, and club sports, teams travel from town to town, then region to region. Will teams be competing against each other in online competitions? Or will they be hosting LAN events on weekends to ensure fair and balanced matches? Or perhaps a mixture of both?
Teams play after school, split between Monday and Tuesday nights (which you can find here). Most of the teams play from their school which is preferred, while some play from home as they might have issues to work through playing from School. The competition is online. The finals of these events will be a little bit different though *smiles*.
Soccer is more of a winter sport, swimming is popular in the summer, but eSports are an indoor, all-year-round activity. When throughout the year is HSL held?
Currently we are running with two “splits”. March to June and we are planning on doing a second larger split from around July/August to October.
What games are currently being played through HSL? And do you see this roster expanding? If so, to what?
Currently League of Legends is the game of choice. It doesn’t have huge hardware requirements, we have great support from (the game developer) Riot Games, and its maturity rating is suitable for the older kids at school. We absolutely see this roster expanding, however at the moment, the key for us is to build the infrastructure and systems to have many more teams involved.
With League of Legends, a PC game, being the title that HSL is focusing on at the moment, the question begs as to what kind of plans you have for HSL to perhaps add Xbox One, PlayStation 4, or even Nintendo Wii U or Switch console games to the rosters as interest in the league grows?
Lots of plans, nothing to announce just yet. Our focus is on running our current LoL competition for HSL.
What kind of support have you seen from companies with regard to sponsorship? Are IT outlets jumping on board to help out teams with quality gaming gear? Or are larger companies like Microsoft and Activision/Blizzard getting in touch about sponsoring say, a Halo Wars 2, Heroes of the Storm, or Starcraft 2 tournament?
We (TechCafe) have partnered with Letsplay.live to put on the HSL. Their expertise and capabilities are key to delivering a sustainable competition – we don’t want to have a one hit wonder on our hands. With the first split of HSL we always tempered expectations and have called it a “pilot”. We thought the idea would be great but really weren’t sure as it hadn’t been done before. So for this reason we really haven’t approached anyone for sponsorship, but we certainly have interested parties who wish to be engaged.
HSL is a few weeks in from its March 6 start date. How are the matches progressing?
There have been some amazing games, teams are very competitive and what is most promising is how the players are learning and growing with each game from week to week by playing against competition.
What is happening in the immediate future with HSL?
We have released a schedule which is what games will be streamed on our High School League twitch channel. We are also planning for finals, starting to plan the second split, and are continually looking for ways to improve what we are doing.
Where do you see HSL going? That is to say, what are your hope for HSL’s future?
Matt: New Zealand have the best rugby systems and programmes in the world, which produces the best team. We don’t have the most players, so we rely on those systems and programs to keep us on top. Hopefully, HSL can become a springboard to produce and grow NZ eSport talents, but also cultivate great technology talents that can help contribute to the different industries we support.
Thanks for speaking with us today. Do you have any final words to our readers regarding HSL: High School League?
We appreciate the strong support we have been shown for HSL. It’s a passion project for us and Letsplay.live, and we look forward to keep on growing it!
A big thanks to Matt Dawson for speaking with us. If you found that interesting, be sure to check out the HSL Letsplay.live or the Official HSL Twitch Streams, and if you’re interested in participating, have a chat with your teachers about getting in touch with the team via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at their Facebook page.