As one sports tournament after another gets cancelled or postponed amid the Covid-19 pandemic, high school student Nazeer Dada is busy training for one that organisers say is Covid-proof.
The country's first national Esports championship league - the National High School Esports tournament - is to take place around the middle of the year.
Delivered by local esports organisation The Shadownet and Victory Up, the competition will involve 1500 students, and 200 teams from about 100 schools across New Zealand.
Gamer Dada, 16, from Macleans College says he has been putting in at least four hours or more every Saturday and Sunday gaming in the hope of representing his school.
At the Auckland Armageddon Expo last year, Dada was the only student player to win against pro gamer Dell Tero and that has given him a good gauge of his skill level.
"I am quite serious about my gaming, I mean some of my friends play rugby or soccer but I see myself as an Esportsman," Dada said.
Esports was confirmed last year as an official sporting code by Sport New Zealand, with the New Zealand Esports Federation recognised as the governing body for esports.
Globally, esports in increasing in popularity - the first global esports that took place in 2021 both online and offline was Montoon's Mobile Legends: Bang Bang (MLBB) M2 World Championship which garnered over 136 million views.
The Shadownet spokeswoman Prony Sykes said she was expecting more than 600,000 online audience for the high school competition which spans 20 weeks - and if the Covid situation allows, the final event will have the capacity to host up to 10,000.
Players will compete in a variety of gaming titles including League of Legends, Valorant, Team Fight Tactic and Legends of Reneterra. There would also be console games NBA2K and Rocket League.
The Shadownet and Victory Up had obtained exclusive licensing rights for Riot Games at high school and university levels in NZ.
"Ever since esports was certified as sporting code, a lot of opportunities has open up for us in schools and we are proud to become the only sports league to maintain normal operations amidst the Covid-19 pandemic," Sykes said.
In the last year, the company has run the National Tertiary Esports League and other esports tournaments, which saw one team drawn to represent New Zealand in the upcoming global Fisu Esports - Fifa World Cup competition.
"Our main goal is to create a pathway and set a good foundation for Kiwi's in gaming," Sykes said.
"We believe that esports and techno sports is the future and that it is a viable career path for our many Kiwis."
Sykes is also of the view that esports offers wider opportunities to students to develop leadership skills and team building outside traditional field and court sports.
Dada said he has been gaming - and been watching his two older brothers play - since he was about 5 years old.
"But beating a pro who is insanely good made me feel like I'm really good at gaming, and I just enjoyed the whole experience," he said.
"One of the main games I play is Valorant and I'm hoping I can get into one of the Macleans College teams for the national league."
Dada said during the lockdown he has been putting a lot more hours into gaming, and has his parents' support as long as he was able to balance it with his studies.
"A lot of my friends are gamers, so during lockdown playing esports is one way that I get to communicate with them as well," he said.
Ian Seaton, The Shadownet director, said bringing esports to a high school level will rapidly grow the sporting code and create pathways for young gamers to compete and gain skills needed to play at the highest levels.
"This league is going to be a pretty important way of fostering the kind of ecosystem we're after here in the New Zealand esports industry," Seaton said.
The league will begin in the second term and will be divided into five separate leagues across the country: Auckland, Waikato, Wellington, Otago and Canterbury.
Details are yet to be finalised for the live finals, which could be held around August.
The league will culminate in a grand final, hosted at a national level and winners may be chosen to represent New Zealand at international competitions.