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File photo / Pictured is Jack Eftink, a co-captain for McCallie School's Esports video game team.

Catoosa County Parks and Recreation is expanding its sports league offerings beyond fields and courts and onto the screens of players, wherever they may be.

The department is offering esports leagues for the first time this summer, starting July 12 and running through Aug. 16.

Esports provides an option that doesn't require in-person contact during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as an opportunity to participate in a competitive sport that's growing in popularity. Some colleges are now offering scholarships for students who play esports, said Kim Sawyer, Catoosa County Parks and Recreation program coordinator.

[READ MORE: Esports surging in popularity amid coronavirus pandemic]

Chattanooga area high schools, such as McCallie School, have added esports teams in recent years.

After hearing from officials with other Georgia parks and recreation departments at a networking event about the success of their esports programs, Sawyer decided to partner with GGLeagues to offer esports in Catoosa, she said.

Games offered are Madden 21, Fortnite (1v1 and 2v2), Rocket League (1v1 and 3v3) and Super Smash Bros.

Players need the equipment required for their chosen game and an internet connection to play, and some games also require a Nintendo Switch or PlayStation Plus subscription. The parks and rec department does not provide equipment or space for people to play, Sawyer said.

The league is divided into age groups: youth age 8-12, teens 13-17 and adults 18 and older.

One of the benefits of playing in a local league is the chance to play people you know, Sawyer said, adding that leagues aren't all that common. Most opportunities to play locally are at tournaments, she said.

"Being a mom of teenage boys, it's not always an easy thing getting there," Sawyer said of local tournaments.

Another benefit is that the Fortnite leagues are free to play, she said. All others are $30 per player.

Registration closes June 28.

For more information, visit catoosarec.com/e-sports.

Email Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com

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