Esports, middle school, high school, GSE
(Photo provided by Chris Aviles)

Esports growing in New Jersey thanks to non-profit, Garden State Esports

 A Fair Haven middle school teacher named Chris Aviles started "Garden State Esports" in 2020. GSE is the only Scholastic Esports League where middle school and high school kids can compete against each other in the United States. The best part of it is, Garden State Esports is a non-profit organization and it exists to help kids play Esports and think about different career paths in the Esports ecosystem that are available. Here's the story behind GSE.

In 2019, the Fortnite World Cup attracted 2.3 million viewers and 19,000 live fans. The ESL One New York tournament was held from 2015 to 2019. This tournament that features professional Esports teams going head-to-head on the first-person shooter Counterstrike Global Offensive (CSGO) was held at the Barlcays Center in Brooklyn New York, home of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets.

For a New Jersey-native like Chris Aviles, Esports is his passion, it's what he likes to do, but for the benefit of the young school children who he teaches in the Fair Haven School District.

In 2017, Aviles founded the first Middle School Esports team in the country which goes by the name, "Fair Haven Knights." They are a team of middle and high school students that compete against other schools in popular games like Rocket League, Overwatch, and Fortnite.

Aviles wrote an article for techlearning.com, where he described the process of creating the Jersey Shore Esports Cup (JSEC). In 2019, Aviles reached out to his friend Steve Isaacs who taught at William Annin Middle School in Basking Ridge to see if the William Annin Vikings video game club would like to play against the Fair Haven Knights.

They ended up setting up the match, which involved players competing in the game Rocket League, where each team controls vehicles and try to use the cars to score goals in a field that looks everything like a soccer pitch except for its surreal video game appearance. It ended up being a first-round match in the JSEC playoffs, the first of its kind and an important first step for the growing sport that is Esports in New Jersey middle schools.

Get to Know Chris Aviles, Founder of GSE

Jersey Sporting News spoke with Garden State E-Sports founder, Chris Aviles, to learn more about his non-profit organization, founded in 2020.

Aviles graduated from Lacey High School in Ocean County and attended college at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, PA, where he received a Bachelor's degree in English. He also went to graduate school at Boise State University. Since 2006, Aviles has been teaching in Fair Haven.

Aviles started an unique school program at the Knollwood school called "Fair Haven Innovates" which teaches students how to run their own business in the 21st century digital landscape.

According to Chris, he started the "first middle school Esports team in the country" four years ago. Soon after, Aviles organized the first matchup between two middle school teams in American Esports history. From that point on, Esports has been growing as a competitive sport in New Jersey thanks to the organizers, sponsors and the kids who participate in tournaments.

Garden State Esports

In March of 2020, Aviles started Garden State Esports, a non-profit organization that seeks to organize competitions between students, primarily in New Jersey.

The Fair Haven Knights E-sports team poses for a group photo. (Photo Courtesy of Chris Aviles).

Aviles started Garden State Esports to help facilitate the creation of Esports teams in middle schools across New Jersey and to organize tournaments for kids who attend schools that do not have an Esports program. Most New Jersey schools do not organize Esports tournaments and that is where GSE excels.

Aviles says that Garden State Esports has helped create teams in 105 school districts, which accounts for 20-percent of districts in the state. According to GSE's head Chris Aviles, his organization has gained 16 million subscribers to date.

According to their website, Garden State Esports "works directly with all stakeholders of a school district to align goals and strategic vision with our vision." The non-profit organization works with community centers, libraries, and after-school programs "who want to use E-Sports as a powerful learning tool" and create more opportunities for Esport athletes to socialize with other like-minded kids and learn about potential career paths. GSE's founder described how Garden State Esports is growing Esports in New Jersey.

"Esports leagues are positioning themselves as the governing body [that organizes Esports games]. Garden State Esports can empower any organization that has kids and wants to use Esports and help them grow." - Chris Aviles, Founder of Garden State Esports

Schools have been closed across the country since Mar. 2020. This has reduced the amount of kids participating in Esports in New Jersey, Aviles says, but once schools begin to re-open and its safe to meet in-person again, Aviles believes the 105 teams that GSE has helped create, will return.

When schools go back to in-person learning, Garden State Esports will have the tools it needs to be successful," Aviles said. "[We will begin] Face-to-face practices and events and when you couple that with the fact that Esports is easy to play virtually, we’ll continue our virtual events and add these face-to-face options. I think you’re going to see an even bigger growth than what we already have.

The Esports Ecosystem

Garden State Esports is not just a video game club, as some people might boil the group down to.

Chris Aviles, Garden State E-Sports

Kids play E-sports together at an event organized by Garden State E Sports League. (Photo provided by Chris Aviles)

The average person who is not aware of what Esports are will say playing video games is just a hobby. However, after my conversation with Aviles, who has worked hard to grow the game through his organization, I understood it to be much more than just a kids game. It's an ecosystem that involves a sport that is not played on the field but in the computer lab. That involves the same passion, the same mental fortitude that many traditional sports like basketball, baseball or football provide. There are also many different jobs in the industry.

There are also a bunch of kids who are viewing this as their future. There are 195 colleges offering $60 million in scholarships for Esports. Many kids see themselves playing at the collegiate level and then potentially going pro and because of the work they’ve done with Garden State Esports, even if they don’t go pro, they know the different careers and pathways that are available to them in the Esport ecosystem. - Chris Aviles

Aviles believes great opportunities are available to the participants in the Garden State Esports league and encourages getting involved in at a young age.

They can find themselves in the marketing department or the finance department,  doing graphic design or video editing for some of these big Esport companies that are out there or a more traditional company, where their skills are going to be valued. You can’t be serious about STEM and not be serious about Esports. - Chris Aviles

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Anthony graduated from Montclair State University, where he covered a variety of sports for three years. He co-hosts a sports-themed radio show on campus radio station, WMSC 90.3 FM, which was recently named #1 college radio station in the nation.