Drone soccer, an emerging esport that pits flying drones against each other, is the newest high-tech youth sport to reach the U.S.—and one Long Beach high school is leading the charge.
Sato Academy of Mathematics and Science is the first California high school to create a drone soccer team and will be competing for a regional title on March 18 in Palm Springs. If all goes well, the team will also compete for a national title in New York on April 16.
“They’re going to be one of the first real outings we’ve had against other high schools,” said Matthew Haley, a sophomore at Sato Academy. “So obviously that’s exciting, especially since this would be the first real tournament that the West Coast has had period.”
An esport that developed in South Korea in 2016, drone soccer wouldn’t reach the U.S. until last year. The first U.S. tournament to compete in the states launched in April 2021 in Colorado by the U.S. Drone Soccer League. After reading about the tournament in an aeronautics publication, Sato aerospace engineering teacher Albert Gallo thought it would be a great sport to introduce to his students and established a team at Sato Academy just five months later, in September 2022.
“I just thought it was the most amazing thing for kids to do because it involved a lot of STEM skills. It will teach them about aeronautics and aerospace and give them different avenues to get into the field,” he said.
Drone soccer gameplay is simple and relatively easy to follow once spectators adjust to the zipping movement of the drones flying around the court—a net about 10 feet wide, 20 feet long and 10 feet high.
The game consists of two teams of five drones competing for the greatest number of points scored within a three-minute match. It’s not a free-for-all, though: Each team has one designated “striker” who is the only player allowed to fly through the opposing team’s goal hoop, which is guarded by a goalie, to score a point. The rest of the three players on each team act as defenders, who work together to either defend their goalie or knock the other team’s striker away from their hoop.
“One thing that drone soccer gets compared to a lot is Quidditch from Harry Potter,” said Alana Arroyo, a sophomore at Sato Academy who plays goalie on the team.
The Sato drone soccer team is hoping to attract more students and schools to the sport. There are some middle schools in San Diego, Fresno and Sacramento that are starting teams and hosting camps, Gallo said, but it hasn’t quite caught on in California high schools just yet.
“I think drone soccer is going to be the next big thing,” Gallo said. “I think it’s a sport where schools could buy the equipment, get some training, get some kids who are interested in aviation and then start their teams.”