An esports league of their own
XP League is the largest youth esports franchise league in North America. It was born out of a father’s desire to connect with his kids.
Like many parents during the Covid-19 pandemic, Jay Melamed was trying to figure out healthy ways for his four children to have safe interactions with their friends other than sitting in their room alone playing video games.
A lack of available outdoor activities during the initial lockdown led gaming to become one of the most popular activities, particularly among millennials and generation Z.
At the time Melamed didn’t know much about gaming outside of casually playing with his kids. So he gave himself a crash course in all things competitive gaming.
His next move was to pull together groups of kids at his Raleigh, N.C. youth coding center to regularly play against each other in a controlled environment. Three weeks into the effort, Melamed realized: “With a little bit of structure, this is like magic.”
Esports, it turned out, were not unlike traditional youth sports when it came to teaching kids how to work together.
“These kids are going to gain the same life skills, the same experience,” he said. “We can have the same impact that we would have if these kids were lining up to play football or soccer.”
It’s just what Melamed needed to connect with his youngest child, Judah—who, unlike their siblings (and much like their father), wasn’t big into the idea of running around simply for the sport of it.
“Super sweet, really great kid,” Melamed said. “But if you were like go run down the street, they would be like, nah, I’m not going to do that.”
A different path
Melamed remembers how much his own father wanted him to play soccer, but he despised everything about being out on the pitch. “I hated running,” he said. “I would just sit in the back and pick flowers.”
His mother would joke and call him “Ferdinand the Bull,” while his father would wallow in disappointment with the knowledge that his son wanted nothing to do with a sport he loved.
“He wanted to make that connection, but he didn’t know how to make it on my terms,” Melamed said. His father died in a car crash before they could find common ground.
Melamed’s childhood was top of mind when he started an esports league for his kids.
Called XP League, led by coaches, and open to elementary, middle, and high school aged players, it’s now the largest youth esports franchise league in North America. It’s also the first esports organization to partner with the Positive Coaching Alliance, a national nonprofit dedicated to inclusive youth sports.
A new adventure
In Macomb, Mich., Mike Cantalupo found himself searching for something to do with his son, Logan. Logan was into youth sports, and the two occasionally played the video game Rocket League together, but Cantalupo wanted more options.
He ran across an ad for a local XP League franchise and gave it a shot.
Logan, 10, was hooked.
“He’s able to get that pro gamer feel, but with kids,” said Cantalupo. "A lot of it has to do with teamwork. From a parent’s perspective, that’s a big benefit.”
The icing on the cake? Cantalupo had the opportunity to take Logan to the XP League Championships at Full Sail University in Orlando, Fla., a first-of-its-kind event for kids between 8 and 15 years old.
Full Sail’s partnership with the XP League was the brainchild of Sari Kitelyn, the university's director of esports. Full Sail distinguishes itself with a focus on entertainment media and emerging technologies and has esports teams that compete in Call of Duty, League of Legends, Overwatch, Valorant, and other games.
“From our competitive teams, to our gaming and esports community, to our educational offerings and streaming and content creation, we approach the entire ecosystem from all sides,” she said.
Kitleyn said the school received over a dozen pitches to play host to youth esports leagues around the country. What made Melamed’s pitch stand out was XP League’s comprehensive, coach-led approach, she said, which emulates both Full Sail’s esports program as well as professional leagues.
“Jay has shown first-hand how valuable it can be to connect parents and their children,” Kitelyn said.
XP League held its second-annual North American finals at Full Sail last month. The partnership has proven mutually beneficial—the kids coming out of Melamed’s program have the opportunity to be seen by college admissions counselors, and the XP League has hired multiple Full Sail students after graduation.
“Students who have been coached in esports will always have a leg up on those who play games alone,” Kitelyn said.
Not too shabby for a dad who was trying to figure out a way to give his kids something he never had.
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