Cain Bernhardt is the first Orion High School senior to sign a national letter of intent to compete in a college esports program.
He signed on Monday, March 16, to join the video gaming team at St. Ambrose University in Davenport. Esports feature multi-player competitions.
"It's a pretty big deal, not just for me but for the club," Bernhardt said. "It's an honor for me to show our little esports group can become bigger."
He has played esports at OHS for three years, ever since English teacher Andrew Lister organized the club in response to student requests.
Esports usually pit two teams against each other in a game, the senior said. His specialty is Overwatch, a hero game in which players on a team try to control points on a map or to move a payload.
Each player chooses one of 32 heroes whose abilities can help the team.
Bernhardt's character is Brigitte, a healer. She can shield her teammates from the enemy, and she can drop repair packs to heal their damage.
Bernhardt loves esports because he can "be around other people similar to me and play the game I love."
He didn't necessarily see esports participation resulting in a scholarship, but he does hope esports could open up career options such as sports management and becoming an esports coach.
Esports have made him a better classroom student, Bernhardt said.
"It opened up my world to the people around me and keeps my mental state more positive because I have something to look forward to,"he said.
Lister said character, friendship and camaraderie are the benefits of esports for students.
"I am extremely happy with the team and extremely proud of my players," he said. "Cain is an incredible asset to the Overwatch team. I doubt the team will be the same without Cain."
The SAU e-sports coach is Chase Neukam, former director of Paradigm, a virtual reality training facility and e-sports arena in Davenport.
"I want to say here at SAU we don't just look at talent," Neukam said. "We recruit character, we recruit dedicated, passionate players. We'll help Cain hone his leadership skills. We're focused on making his career successful. We're delighted to have him."