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Kentucky high schools ban Fortnite league over concerns about 'shooter games'

(Image credit: Epic Games)

In January, TechCrunch reported that a company called PlayVS had joined with Epic Games to launch competitive Fortnite leagues at the high school and college levels. Most PlayVS leagues, operated in partnership with the National Federation of State High School Associations, require participating schools to pay a fee of $64 per player, but the Epic deal—which is separate from any NFHS affiliation—means that the first season of Fortnite will be free for all registered players. High school registrations are open until February 17, colleges and universities have until February 24, and the season will begin on March 2.

But shortly after Fortnite school league play was announced, the Lexington Herald Leader reported that the Kentucky High School Athletic Association shut it down in the state, telling school officials in an email that "KHSAA member Kentucky schools may not participate in Fortnite with our partner PlayVS or in any other interscholastic competition."

"I want to personally assure you that we, along with the NFHS Network are proactively taking steps to have this decision reversed," KHSAA commissioner Julian Tackett said in the email. "There is no place for shooter games in our schools. This announcement was particularly troubling in that it came on the anniversary of one of Kentucky’s darkest days, the Marshall County incident."

That "incident" was a January 2018 mass shooting at the Marshall County High School, in which a 15-year-old shooter killed two students and wounded 14; four more were injured while trying to escape.

It's not clear that either the KHSAA or the NFHS have the authority to impose a direct ban on high school-level Fortnite league play in the state, however. PlayVS told The Washington Post that this is a "national club league for Fortnite," independent of state athletic associations, and will "function outside of our current partnerships with the NFHS and individual state associations."

"We believe the confusion arose from smaller media publications misrepresenting what’s on our website, in our press release, and on our social media," PlayVS CEO Delane Parnell told the site. "[Our postings] all say that Fortnite is a club league. Once we identified this confusion, we took steps to further clarify the scholastic/club distinction on our social channels and issued a clarification to media outlets."

The PlayVS website also makes that distinction: League of Legends and Rocket League are described as "state sanctioned esport[s]" operated in partnership with the NFHS and state-level athletic associations, but Fortnite and Smite are "national club-based league[s], operating outside of partnerships with the NFHS and individual state associations."

Despite that, there may be enough grassroots support to impose a de facto ban on the game anyway. Boyle County High School esports team coach Damian Laymon, for instance, indicated that he is in favor of the decision. "When you start getting into the shooter-style games, I believe there’s a line," he said. "At the high school level do you want to be a part of that?"

Interestingly, the KHSAA does allow League of Legends to be played in esports competitions, but only reluctantly, according to the Herald Leader report: Written approval from principals, superintendents, and parents is required before students are allowed to play. Kentucky students who are at least 18 years of age are legally allowed to open-carry firearms without a permit, however.

Correction: The post originally indicated that the National Federation of State High School Associations was involved in the PlayVS Fortnite league. PlayVS has clarified that this is not the case.

"PlayVS is operating a national club league for Fortnite with Epic Games, similar to its Smite league. Our aim is to offer more students access to game titles they’re already playing in an educational, supervised setting. Fortnite Leagues will function outside of PlayVS’ current partnerships with the NFHS and individual state associations," it said in a statement.

"These partnerships currently support League of Legends and Rocket League, titles that have been specifically chosen for the high school lineup based on game content. Any school in any state opting into Fortnite will compete in a national club league, separate from their respective state associations. PlayVS’ main focus is providing students with access to their favorite game titles in a coached environment that fosters teamwork, critical thinking skills, and communication."

Andy covers the day-to-day happenings in the big, wide world of PC gaming—the stuff we call "news." In his off hours, he wishes he had time to play the 80-hour RPGs and immersive sims he used to love so much.