PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Playing and watching others play video games has exploded in popularity in recent years.

On average, 4.6 million people tuned in to watch the 2022 Stanley Cup Finals, according to ESPN. Compare that to the world finals for League of Legends, which EsportsInsider says had more than 5 million viewers.

As e-sports become more prominent, many colleges and high schools are giving students a chance to take part in competitive gaming, including here in Rhode Island.

One of those schools is Central High School in Providence, which now has an e-sports team. Head coach Daniel Lyttle said it all started with a trip to the e-sports lounge at the New England Institute of Technology.

“It was so positive that I was like, ‘Well let’s investigate … are high school e-sports a thing?'” he recalled.

The program was able to get the equipment it needed through funding from several sources, including a STEM mini-grant from the R.I. Department of Education, legislative grants, and elementary and secondary school emergency relief funds.

Lyttle told 12 News the program not only gives students a chance to compete and be part of a team, but it can also open doors for them. According to College Gazette, some colleges and universities offer upwards of $25,000 in scholarships to play competitively.

“This is an opportunity for students to get involved in their school that’s not your traditional sport, but it’s also a way where they can connect to the school and grow beyond just school,” Lyttle added.

For those who dispute that playing video games can be considered a sport, Lyttle had this to say: “It is a team sport. We have five players playing League of Legends, three players playing Rocket League—they’re working together to accomplish the same goal you would in a soccer game or in football.”

Central player Bernie Argueta Soto said when he heard e-sports were coming to his school, he knew he had to give it a shot.

“I was really excited because there’s not much to do at home after school. I’m not very athletic,” he said. “Time flies when you’re in a game. It’s a 30-minute match. You don’t realize it because you’re in the action, you know?”

The most important aspects of the game, according to Soto, are teamwork, strategy, and communication.

“Teamwork needs to be involved,” he explained. “You’ve got to know where everyone is, how much damage everyone has until they’re taken out, and when to strategically push towards victory.”

For Lyttle, what’s most important is the life lessons learned along the way.

“Just to see them have fun but also be involved in the school and be invested beyond just their education in a team sport is awesome,” Lyttle said. “Striving together to succeed, learning, but learning beyond just playing the game, and just hard work and determination, being able to see a goal and achieve that goal … that’s what I hope they can carry with them.”