Competitive Video Gaming Coming to Montana High Schools

MHSA approved esports as an “emerging activity” beginning next school year; girls flag football continues expanding

By Micah Drew
Video game equipment. Adobe Stock

The Montana High School Association executive board at its April 22-23 meeting voted to bring competitive video gaming to Montana schools as a two-year pilot program. An official esports season will take place during the 2024-25 school year and be classified as an “emerging activity,” a new designation adopted at the MHSA annual meeting in January outlining the pilot process for adding new activities before officially sanctioning them.

“Esports is obviously seeing huge growth around the country and we’re excited to get a whole new group of students involved in activities,” MHSA Executive Director Brian Michelotti said. “It’ll be a bit of a moving target the first year, similar to how we did flag football. In the initial phases we were experimenting with some of the rules, schedules were variable, the state championships came together as the season went. We’ll try to put some rails around this as it grows.”          

According to the MHSA proposal, submitted by representatives from Sidney High School, esports is officially sanctioned by 20 state high school associations and nearly half of participating students had never previously been involved in an after-school activity or sport. More than 8,600 high schools nationwide have teams, along with around 240 colleges. Four Sidney high school students have received college scholarships for esports in the last three years.

In 2022-2023, the first unofficial Montana High School Esports League was formed with 11 schools taking part, expanding to 14 schools this year. The University of Montana runs the league free of charge and holds an unofficial state championship in four games — Rocket League, Super Smash Bros., League of Legends and Overwatch 2.

With that framework already in place, Michelotti said MHSA will be working with the University of Montana’s program to learn how best to implement esports in an official capacity across the state.

According to MHSA, 16 schools — including both Class AA schools in Great Falls— have expressed a strong interest in the inaugural esports season so far, with Michelotti estimating that up to 25 schools could be on board by the fall.

“We have a lot of decisions to make still — when the season will be, whether there will be multiple seasons in a year, what platform to use — but in the next school year we’re going to have a full esports season in Montana,” he said.

At the April meeting, the MHSA committee also approved reclassifying girls flag football as an “emerging sport” instead of a “non-sanctioned MHSA activity.” The sport is still in the pilot program phase but has seen rapid growth from the first season in 2022 where only three schools participated. In the fall of 2024, the number of teams participating in flag football is set to grow from five to 14, with an additional three teams on the fence. Glacier High School has won the last two state championships.

The board also approved changes to wrestling weight classes and expanded the state wrestling tournament to a three-day event.

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