HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The YMCA is known for its activity-based programs that promote health and wellness. Now, Heart of the Valley YMCA is taking a step forward with a new project: Esports.

The “E” stands for electronic. It’s competitive video gaming, complete with weekly tournaments.

With the pandemic, one leader said an option like this came along at a great time.

“It’s a lot of social interaction that a lot of children aren’t getting at this moment or for the past few years, and I think we can facilitate that in a safe way,” Esports coordinator Hunter Johnson said.

For now, it’s all online. As soon as this summer though, Johnson said they could make the transition to in-person. He said they make sure to play cross-platform games though, so a team member can use a computer, Nintendo Switch, Playstation, and more.

Registration is open for kids ages 8-12, but they do not have to be members of the YMCA to take part. It’s a $50 registration fee for non-members and $25 for members.

Johnson said they hope to expand age groups soon.

They are actively looking for sponsors, though, to help with costs to expand the program with a space for practice, as well as potentially help fund options for kids who don’t have the equipment needed at home.

“We want to be very aggressive in that and get everyone that we can involved,” Johnson said.

While Esports might not be the first program that comes to mind when you think of sports, Johnson said interest is only growing, some colleges are even incentivizing gamers.

“Collegiately now, schools are offering scholarships. There’s a professional scene, which, not everybody’s going to go professional, but there’s that dream and that hope,” he said.

Johnson played Esports at the collegiate level as well. He said the program fits perfectly into the Y’s mission. It requires collaboration, communication, and problem-solving in order to lead a team to success.

“Anybody can play, there’s really not a limitation as far as physical. It’s extremely inclusive as well,” he said.

That inclusivity is something Johnson knows firsthand.

“I was a kid with severe anxiety, couldn’t really connect with people in person, but I met some of my best friends to this day just online playing video games,” he said.

Now. he’s thrilled to bring that to the kids in the program.

For more information on the program, click here. For the registration link, click here.

The deadline to register for this season is February 14. The first Saturday tournament will be February 15.