With nearly 200 colleges in the U.S. and Canada actively recruiting and offering scholarships for esports, and companies in the esports industry hungry to hire individuals with plenty of experience, there's a national movement toward recognizing esports as an official high school sport.

But it doesn't look like New Jersey will be a player anytime soon.

During the 2018 academic year, the National Federation of State High School Associations partnered with online gaming provider PlayVS to introduce esports to high schools and state associations in more than a dozen states. In a handful of states, regular-season competition, featuring players with video-game controllers and headsets, was followed by state championship games.

New Jersey was not one of the participating states.

Staff with the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association has participated in NFHS information sessions on the topic, according to a spokesperson for the association. But currently "there are no formal plans" for esports in the Garden State, the spokesperson said.

Schools do, however, have their own clubs devoted to competitive video gaming, the professional level of which is expected to rake in more than $1.5 billion by 2021 worldwide. Fair Haven, Monmouth County, is home to the country's first middle-school sports team.

The Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, in a conversation with New Jersey 101.5, said it visited 150 schools last year, touching on the connection between video gaming and gambling — there's a sizeable underground market of esports wagering — and the "warning signs of problematic use."

"We just encourage parents, we encourage educators, to learn more, and to understand what their children or youth population are engaging in," said Dan Trolaro, the council's assistant executive director. "We're neither for or against gaming, because it's an activity most people can do, just like gambling. However, we want to educate the public about the dangers that we're seeing as an emerging trend within games."

Aside from exposure to betting, Trolaro said, gaming also normalizes "spending money on games at an early age."

Loot boxes, for example, can be purchased for a small amount of money, with the promise of digital rewards — valuable or not so valuable — at any time.

"Which kind of follows the psychology of slot machines," Trolaro said.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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