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The world of eSports is continually growing in Pennsylvania

YORK, Pa. — Thomas Yantis is a freshman at Lebanon Valley College. He’s also a player on the LVC Overwatch team. Overwatch is one of the video games...

YORK, Pa. --- Thomas Yantis is a freshman at Lebanon Valley College.

He's also a player on the LVC Overwatch team.

Overwatch is one of the video games that are a part of the school's eSports program.

Yantis, a Bishop McDevitt High School graduate, was a recruit to play eSports at LVC and Robert Morris University in Chicago, Illinois.

He decided to stay closer to home.

"I liked the program a lot and I decided to come here," said Yantis.

A former wide receiver for the Crusaders, Yantis said he injured his shoulder during his senior season.

While he played through it, Yantis said surgery took him off the gridiron.

After that, he said his brother pushed him to pursue his side hobby: playing video games.

"When I saw that I was pretty good at this game and I could be on a college team, that really excited me because as of now, I can't play football because of that injury so still being able to compete at a high level really interested me," said Yantis.

Can eSports be considered a sports?

This former football player believes so.

"It is demanding on the body. It's weird to say, but it gets stressful after playing two hours straight. My hands starts to cramp up and all that and the practices are the same. It's a structured practice and you have games just like every other sport," said Yantis.

He is also a member of the Pennsylvania eSports Coalition: a non-profit organization that advocates and educates for the eSports industry.

He explained his role is to help people understand what eSports is, including to members on the board.

"You go outside in your backyard to play wiffle ball, right? But there is an actual baseball team. So you play video games for fun with your friends but there is an actual team where you can compete at a high level with a team," said Yantis.

Bill Thomas, chairman of the PA eSports Coalition, said he believes Pennsylvania can be a "leader" when it comes to the industry.

"This is no longer individuals in their parents basement for 15, 20 hours zombie-like playing video games. These are competitive atmospheres," said Thomas.

Thomas said a primary driver of the eSports Coalition is to use eSports as an anchor for advancing "STEAM" and "STEM" education: expertise in science, technology, engineering, art and math.

He said those skills can translate to technology-based careers, such as managing and eSports team or creating the games, themselves.

"You have grade school kids, to middle, to high school kids how are really passionate about these games and competing in these sports. I think you an leverage that popularity, that passion, into jobs we need to fill," said Thomas.

That passion can be found at Conestoga Valley High School in East Lampeter Township, Lancaster County.

43 students make up the first high school eSports team in central Pennsylvania.

"I was like, wow, you never thought that would happen, at least here," said Zavier Jordan, a junior and captain of the League of Legends team.

"There is a huge gaming culture at our school," said Andreya Taitano, a senior and League of Legends manager.

Taitano said the idea of video game tournaments floated around the "Tech Team" before but never came to fruition.

Vice Principal Dr. Matthew Fox discovered eSports this summer, seeing it as an opportunity to fill a desire by students.

Now there is a full club with a coach, multiple advisors, and the support of the school district.

"There's camaraderie, there's teamwork, there's communication, and there's networking and there's a lot to be said for all of those aspects in transferring those skills into careers later on,' said Susan Scales, eSports and Tech Team advisor.

"That's one of the biggest high school lessons, man, you've got to learn to work with others," said Jordan, with a laugh.

There are four different games: Hearthstone, League of Legends, Overwatch and Rocket League

There are two teams are constructed based on skill and role, considered an "A" and "B" tier system.

There are even substitutes if a player is absent.

Conestoga Valley gamers must have appropriate hardware to play from home while managing specific times to practice and play on their own time.

Their goal: create a home eSports base at the high school by next spring as they seek grant money and donations to make more equipment accessible to interested players.

They also want to see neighboring schools join in: the potential of eSports bragging rights.

"We're now the starting of a new thing in our whole entire county and we want to represent that and we want to share with others so we can have a big organization that we can play around in," said Han Nguyen, a freshman and Overwatch player.

Between college scholarships and a growing business interest in eSports, Taitano said now is the time for them to be a part of the growth.

"I think there's a bad stigmatism around video games that it's not something that creates productivity, it's not something that kids should be doing because it rots your brain so, as you can tell, this is something that is very successful in our economy and in schools," said Taitano.

Harrisburg University of Science and Technology offers full-ride athletic scholarships for their eSports program.

Scholarships are being planned for the eSports team at Lebanon Valley College.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board is also exploring if eSports would be a viable product at casinos for legal sports wagers.