Entertaining, Enterprising, Educational: E3 Arena to Open at EHS

The+E-Sports+center%2C+located+at+the+back+of+the+media+center%2C+features+new+equipment+for+eSports.+Photo+credit%3A+Alyson+Zhang.

The E-Sports center, located at the back of the media center, features new equipment for eSports. Photo credit: Alyson Zhang.

Anyone who has been in the Edison High School Media Center this school year may have noticed some major changes. The back corner of the library has been renovated and is now the “Edison HS Eagles Esports Arena,” or the E3 Arena, the school’s first esports gaming center which is slated to open officially on Monday, November 29, 2021. The creation of this space raises questions about its introduction, purpose, and validity in a place of learning. 

Dr. Bernard Bragen, Superintendent of Edison Public Schools, proposed the idea for the arena. He said the district had metrics showing interest in esports, and thus, he brought the idea to EHS Principal Charles Ross. Bragen outlined his model for rollout: introducing the arena first as a club to confirm interest, then legitimize esports as an athletic pursuit and, finally, introduce classes as part of the curriculum.

Bragen spoke about the equity of establishing the E3 arena. 

“People who don’t have certain athletic ability are marginalized; esports levels that playing field,” he said. “It’s a different type of intelligence. It acts as a democratization of the education process, enfranchising more and different students into activities meaningful for their lives.”

Bragen believes that the E3 sports arena offers certain students an incentive.

“Kids need a reason to come to school: for the football kids it’s football, for the STEM kids it’s STEM,” said Bragen. “This arena levels the playing field to provide opportunities to everyone.” 

This isn’t just a place to play games; it’s here to give people opportunities for the future.”

— Ms. Nicole Halpin

Bragen is working to dispel misconceptions about the value of video games in schools.

“This esports arena can serve as the spark to get kids excited about academics and learning in general,” said Bragen “It gives kids the opportunity to excel.”

The esports arena is not just for gaming. According to Ross, its primary purpose is for EHS to stay “up to date”. The arena aims to “provide students with real world experiences that reflect our current times,” he said. 

To do this, the arena will be used not only for gaming but teaching various practical skills such as programming, marketing, and game design. According to Ross, it will be used as an information space and resource for students, as well as providing recognition and marketability for Edison High School. 

Supervisor of 21st Century Skills Ms. Nicole Halpin gave a comprehensive idea of the curriculum to be implemented. Although it will be centered around esports, there will be a wide variety of classes offered there. While the start date is still uncertain, Halpin said, “We plan to use it for classes ideally from next year, incorporating business and tech fields.”

Halpin said the curriculum would be based roughly on the one provided by the North America Scholastics Esports Federation (NASEF); however, it will also be adapted to-Edison specific curriculum. She gave examples of various classes related to esports such as virtual marketing, social media advertising, and business. 

“Classes like esports Business could be seen as equivalent to the current class of Intro to Business,” the supervisor said. 

I want the Esports Club to be viewed as an actual sport, and to legitimize what would otherwise be considered a hobby.”

— Sean Weinbrenner '22

However, the certifications of teachers for such classes is still not concrete. Halpin was hopeful that these new classes could be started next year, but also said that implementation will come down to staffing and approval. 

Halpin remains hopeful that the space will be recognized for its modern advantage.

“This isn’t just a place to play games; it’s here to give people opportunities for the future,” said Halpin. 

In addition to curricular advantage, esports is becoming widely recognized as a competitive sport that includes leagues, scholarships, and career opportunities. The arena serves to give EHS students the opportunity to be a part of the emerging high school gaming landscape.

“I want the Esports Club to be viewed as an actual sport, and to legitimize what would otherwise be considered a hobby,” said Sean Weinbrenner ‘22. Weinbrenner is a co-founder of the club, alongside Reeyan Shah ‘22 and Anthony Chen ‘22.

With over four hundred listed members, the EHS Esports Club’s first meeting had an estimated turnout of 150 students from various grade levels. Even before the official opening of the arena, the club has already participated in competitive events featuring Valorant and League of Legends.

One of the club’s main goals is to enter EHS into the High School Esports League (HSEL) tournaments, a league that provides a path to competitive gaming for high school students.

The E-Sports Center. Photo credit: Alyson Zhang.  

“The goal is for esports to be identified as a legitimate athletic pursuit under EHS Athletics, with a goal of varsity jackets and letters,” said Mr. Michael Piccolo, the advisor for the Esports Club. He added that the arena would, therefore, serve as a training facility for players as well. He also confirmed the possibility of designated coaches to train players. Bragen confirmed Piccolo’s statements, saying that “designated teachers and coaches are a very real possibility.”

Piccolo said, “The esports team will have the same academic standard as any other sport.” It would be equivalent to Varsity Football, Basketball, and Soccer. 

Piccolo gave examples of North Brunswick, Clark, and Woodbridge, who already have established esports teams. He also gave the examples of Rutgers University, University of Delaware, and Kean University, all with esports programs, to show the scope and validity of such a program. He also explained the possibility of a partnership with TAP Esports as an official training center, but spoke about insurance and liability challenges. 

Beyond competitive play, according to Piccolo, the Esports Club is planning to have in-house tournaments available for all members of the club, regardless of skill level. The arena will act as a way to connect students with a common interest. 

“There are no academic, grade wise, or athletic barriers; anyone can come together and play,” said Piccolo. 

One lingering concern is that the arena construction reduced the size of the Media Center, which also once included the dance studio and Room 107.

“Although the arena did take up space in the back corner and reduced the size of the library, no books were removed,” said Mrs. Doreen Stocker, school librarian. “The rows of computers which were previously placed by the windows were also removed, leading to a much more open space furnished with spacious round tables  

There are no academic, grade wise, or athletic barriers; anyone can come together and play.”

— Mr. Michael Piccolo

“I like the new floor plan and openness of the library now,” Stocker said. 

However, she also raised concerns about the Media Center remaining a place of quiet and learning. 

“I don’t know how loud or disturbing having the esports there will be,” Stocker said.

Despite the advantages in technology and equity, many question the cost of the endeavor. With a total construction cost of roughly $400,000, money came from the capital budget of the school, which means it came out of the money allocated to yearly renovations. 

The Board of Education contracted Horizen, which had already built arenas in Kean University and University of Delaware, for the construction of the E3 facility. They provided the specification for the computers, as well as broadcasting and live-streaming capacities. Bragen also said that they locked into prices before the chip shortage, so it did not affect the price. Maintenance, anticipates Bragen, would require the computers and equipment be replaced every 3-5 years. 

“I would rather see the keyboard and mice worn out and needing replacement rather than see the arena underutilized. I want a class scheduled here at every moment,” he said. 

“Giving an opportunity for students to get engaged, get relationships with people in the building,” Bragen said. “It’s only 2% of the capital budget. How could I not do this?”