Devon Thibodeau (right) and Ethan Honaker of Leavitt High School in Turner play a video game at Central Maine Community College's ESports arena's open house in April 2019. The Maine Principals' Association will begin sponsoring esports for the fall season. Credit: Andree Kehn | AP

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With schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, spring sports canceled and the future uncertain, the Maine Principals’ Association has ventured into the virtual world for a new activity to sponsor.

The organization, which regulates high school athletics in the state, is adding esports to its list of MPA extracurricular activities beginning in the fall through a partnership with PlayVS.

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Esports is competitive video gaming and offers a number of different platforms including League of Legends, Smite and Rocket League. League of Legends and Smite involve five-player teams while Rocket League is made up of three-person teams.

PlayVS is the official high school esports league.

MPA Assistant Executive Director Mike Bisson said the MPA will sponsor League of Legends and Rocket League, with the first competitions slated for Oct. 12.

The deadline to qualify for an early activation incentive is Friday. The preseason will begin on Sept. 21, the activation deadline is Oct. 12 and the playoffs will begin on Dec. 12.

There also will be a spring season starting in January.

Bisson said that in order for the MPA to conduct a state championship competition, 20 schools must be involved in League of Legends and Rocket League. Each school can have numerous teams, but it is the number of schools that counts toward qualification.

“I think there’s a good chance we will have 20 schools, although it is a tough time for school budgets,” said Bisson.

There is a registration fee of approximately $60 per player and each school must retain a certified coach.

Players only need a computer, a mouse and a headset to play. They can do so from their homes, so social distancing won’t be an issue if that dynamic remains in place.

League of Legends competitions are held on Tuesdays at 4 p.m. and the Rocket League is slated for Thursdays at 4 p.m.

Bisson said there will be a single statewide league rather than the different classes that are implemented in the other interscholastic sports.

If there aren’t enough participating schools for a state championship, teams will compete against other schools in Maine and elsewhere in a time zone league.

Bisson said students from 80 Maine schools participated in an unaffiliated esports program last fall. He said Cape Elizabeth and Waterville have been involved for a couple of years, which helped serve as an impetus for the MPA to embrace the activity.

Bisson said with the future of high school sports up in the air due to the coronavirus, this will serve as a valuable option for kids.

“This will give them a chance to get involved in a school activity,” he said.

Watch: What will it take for COVID-19 to go away?

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