MONROE, La. (AP) — Video games are often regarded as a waste of time, a distraction from kids’ schoolwork rather than a useful addition to it, but one Monroe teen has busted that stereotype in a big way.
After weeks of personal training, biweekly practices and series of tournament games, high school student Justin Henshaw placed fourth in the nation — in Fortnite.
The video game has exploded in popularity since its launch in 2017 and helped popularize eSports, where anyone — including students at the Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy — can compete for victory.
Henshaw, a student of the virtual school from Monroe, registered in the spring of 2019, and joined the virtual academy’s eSports team in fall 2020 as a freshman.
Johnelle Dufour, eSports coach and math teacher at the school, had just started the team and said Henshaw was one of 10 students to join. The team took on a few different video games to compete with, but Fortnite was Henshaw’s game of choice.
“I’ve been doing video games for pretty much all my life, and so when I heard that LAVCA was going to be starting an eSports club, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a no brainer. I’ll definitely join,’” Henshaw said.
Dufour said she saw great potential in Henshaw, especially since he brought previous gaming experience from Twitch, a platform for streaming video games. Throughout the school year, Dufour said Henshaw and his peers from across the state practiced together twice a week digitally, and Henshaw would put in his own hours outside of practice.
“He was always so very helpful, providing all kinds of advice with his teammates, practically leading his team to victories for the most point,” Dufour said.
He is also a 4.0 student at the virtual academy and finds time to help out in the community. He keeps care packages in his car for when he sees homeless people around town. When Hurricane Ida hit, he gathered supplies and donated them through the Salvation Army and United Way.
The school’s team entered into the Stride competition, competing against more than 100 students and 34 teams from other virtual schools across the country. The tournaments began in January and went on throughout the spring. By the end of it all in May, Dufour said Henshaw placed fourth out of 90 competitors in the solo play category as well as fourth out of 34 teams with his squad.
Henshaw said he hopes to continue competing in eSports even after he graduates high school. In the future, he said he would like to start competing in larger tournaments. Dufour said she tells her students that there are more opportunities in the eSports industry besides just becoming a professional gamer, such as marketing.
Furthermore, Henshaw said eSports team has enabled him to feel connected to his peers despite taking all his classes online from his home in Monroe.
“The socialization I get from it is very nice, especially since I’m doing a virtual school,” Henshaw said. “I get to talk with a lot of people and peers, strategizing in the video games. That’s a lot of fun.”