NEW JERSEY - Earning a varsity letter in a high school sport has been a rite of passage for generations of student-athletes. Now, that tradition is getting a modern and very technological spin.
That's because schools across the state of New Jersey are awarding the coveted honor for a new form of competition.
We're talking about esports — and thousands of gamers are joining more and more teams at high schools and middle schools.
One school on the Jersey Shore is leading the way with what is arguably the coolest and most unique classroom in the Tri-State area.
Welcome to the Monmouth Beach Dolphins Esports Arena, a one-of-a-kind classroom at the Monmouth Beach School.
"We have 10 monitors that are connected one-to-one to 10 gaming PCs, that are also part of their gaming stations, you can see the chairs and the full desk, mouse, mousepads and the peripherals and the headsets and stuff like that," said Chris Aviles.
He's a technology, engineering, science, and mathematics teacher here and also the president and founder of the non-profit gaming organization Garden State Esports.
He says he convinced the local school board to invest $70,000 to create the classroom, which he believes will open up long-term opportunities in the gaming world.
"And so one of the main reasons I started to take esports more seriously, during the pandemic, was my own students were reporting to me just how much this helped with their mental health while they were home," Aviles said.
So far more than 180 school districts across the state are in the competitive league which now has at least 5-thousand high school and middle school students who play competitively.
The next round of the state championships will start on June 4.
"They're learning how to not just play these games, but they're learning how to build and design their own games," he told Fox 5.
There are also socialization benefits to some students who would normally just play games in their parents' basement.
High School freshman Chloe O'Rourke says it's given her unexpected confidence to be part of an organized team
"Being on a team is like, a lot better than just like me at home," she said. "I wouldn't make it like a point to tell people that i played video games but, now that there's teams in schools it's like I don't have to be like afraid about telling people."
Junior, Maximus Deoliveira is a varsity soccer player in the fall, but in the winter and spring, he trades the ball field for a computer screen.
"Esports becoming a lot more popular now. It's like something you can do. Like there's majors coming out with esports," he said.
There are colleges offering specific majors in the gaming industry and perhaps just as important for parents, there are scholarship opportunities.
There are at least 195 colleges offering $15 million in scholarships.
"We gave our first varsity letters this year," said Linda Ensor, who is Shore Regional High School esports coach and also an English teacher at the school.
She says the varsity letters are important, but so is learning about job opportunities in the sprawling tech field.
"They can design the graphics, they can actually program the graphics they can market the game," she said.
To put that in perspective - the gaming industry as a whole generates about $155 billion a year and is showing no signs of slowing down.