When Mason Mullenioux attended Blue Springs High School in the early 2000s, he — like many teenagers — wanted to find a place where he belonged.
“I was decently athletic, but when I tried out for tennis and basketball I didn’t make the team,” Mullenioux said. “But, I was always very good at ‘World of Warcraft.’ I didn’t know why I couldn’t participate in my school playing video games.”
He wasn’t alone. About 40 percent of high school students nationally do not participate in any school activity, Mullenioux said.
“There’s just a lot of kids that are not being served,” he said. “Video games give kids soft skills like teamwork, social interaction, hand-eye coordination, cognitive abilities, critical thinking, reaction time … all sorts of stuff. Just like sports.”
In 2013, Mullenioux co-founded a company with his younger self in mind: High School eSports, an organization that allows competition in video games for high school students.
“This is a big passion of mine,” said Mullenioux, CEO of High School eSports League. “If there was something around like this when I was in school, I would have been the one starting it and getting the club together. I would have been all over it immediately.”
Since its launch, the Kansas City area-based service has worked with more than 500 schools and about 600 teams, representing all 50 U.S. states and Canada. The firm partners with high school clubs and then facilitates tournaments, including such popular video games as “League of Legends,” “Counter Strike: Global Offensive,” “Overwatch,” “Hearthstone” and “Rocket League.”
“We built a club management platform in which schools can register the club and put all their team members on there,” he said. “Then we can keep track of their game stats.”
Previously operating as a free service, High School eSports League launched its paid partnership program this year.
“As a free league for the past two years, we’ve noticed a few problems with sustainability,” Mullenioux said. “When it’s free, there’s a lot of apathy when it comes to sign up. We’ve found that the students that want to play don’t mind paying a small fee.”
With a price point at $5 a month per student, the firm plans to offer such perks as jerseys, LAN (local area network) parties, care packages including “gamer swag,” and a grand finals live event set for summer 2018.
High School eSports League recently closed a seed round and earlier this year established a partnership with Twitch TV, a subsidiary of Amazon.
For the coming fall season, eSports participants will have access to Twitch’s video streaming platform — an exciting development because of Twitch’s popularity with gamers, Mullenioux said.
“They’re huge,” he said. “The partnership has been huge for us they gave us a ton of credibility to what we were doing.”
Mullenioux’s firm currently employs a team of four, as well as seven interns. For the coming year, High School eSports is focused on one thing, he said.
“Schools, schools, schools.”
Most school partnerships have come from an excited student convincing a teacher to sponsor a video game club, he said. Or, teachers and administrators can sign their school up by visiting his firm’s website.
As the service grows, Mullenioux is grateful for the positive impact the league has had on students, he said.
“More than anything, it gives students a sense of belonging,” he said. “That is important because it keeps people out of trouble, makes them feel good about themselves and builds confidence. That’s not just for the jocks anymore — now we have our own thing.”