Monroe esports team raises funds for uniforms | News
The very first video game competition was held at Stanford University in 1972, with five students competing in an “Intergalactic Space War Olympics” for the grand prize of a one-year subscription to the Rolling Stone magazine. (Excerpted from “History of Esports”, University of New Haven online). Nearly 50 years later, the 2019 “League of Legends” World Championship Finals in South Korea drew nearly 100 million unique viewers (more than the Super Bowl that year). Now players from William Monroe High School in Greene County are getting into the esports action.
“Engaging with their passion through esports is a fantastic way to reach students into the space they want to be, while rewarding positive behaviors and skill development,” says the host of the Play Versus (PlayVS) esports competition on its website. “It encourages them to socialize and find community while pursuing something they care about.”
William Monroe players first formed an informal esports team in early 2020, just before schools closed at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. After struggling with staff changes, virtual learning, and the limitations of rural internet connections, the team reformed in the fall of 2021 under high school English teacher Mike Kelty.
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“I’ve never done anything like this before,” Kelty admitted. “I grew up playing video games. I grew up on the Atari 2600 back when it was the pinnacle of technology and I’ve had just about every system since then. I so am an avid learner learning how to coach esports… and it’s been awesome – it’s exactly as fun as I hoped.
The team meets in the Digital Media Lab and this spring will field eight teams in four different games. Super Smash Brothers Ultimate (a fantasy platformer/combat game) and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (a popular racing game) are two Nintendo Switch titles hosting competitions via PlayVS this year. For PC titles, the Dragons compete in Rocket League (think soccer played in toy cars) and Smite (a multiplayer online battle arena featuring Greek and Roman gods/goddesses).
Rocket League is played in teams of three, and the Dragons have three teams competing this spring (Team 1: Cooper Morris, Jacob Smith, Brice Earney; Team 2: Andrew Butts, Landon Frye, Connor Lawson; Team 3: Harrison Graham, Eric Basel, Justin Williams). Smite is a team of five with Jeffrey Wallace, Dylan Thompson, Maya Anderson, Vaughn Whittaker and Zahir Thompson. Super Smash Brothers are in teams of three with Zachary Northcutt, Aiden Clements and Lucas Cropp in team one and Liam Morgan, Landon Frye and Jacob Dulin in team two. Mario Kart is in teams of four: Payton Saylor, Matthew Hensley, Paige Luber and Shawna Nyabuto form team one and Ashton Savage, Enrique Hernandez-Munoz, Gabriel Bailey and Hannah Hjelm form team two.
With so many players interested this year, technology has become an obstacle for the team.
“We need to start fundraising,” Kelty said. “We’d love to play John Madden Football, but it’s a PlayStation exclusive and we’d need a number of PlayStations to do it, and it’s expensive. We’ve been lucky this year because the sports department has bought one of the Switches (Nintendo) and then… PlayVS paired us with Nintendo to give us that extra Switch through a giveaway.
Nintendo systems are set up in the media lab with two large televisions while Rocket League and Smite bands practice on computers in the adjoining classroom.
“Smite plays on his own computers at home – there aren’t enough computers to play around here,” Kelty explained.
One of the complications of using school computers is that the digital media lab and classroom — completed in 2019 as part of the school’s multimillion-dollar renovation — are equipped with Macintosh computers. . Competitive games are all run through PC software, and loading Windows operating systems on a Macintosh computer is a bit of an IT nightmare, according to Kelty.
“It slows down the computers considerably, so it takes forever to get ready for games and things like that,” he said. “But once they’re in the game, there’s really no problem.”
The Virginia High School League (VHSL) in May 2019 approved a one-year pilot program for esports competitions, with the intention of considering it for possible sanction as an official league activity after the comments on the first year. Of course, like everything else in 2020, things have changed with the COVID-19 pandemic. VHSL’s executive committee voted late last year to “reset the clock” for esports, giving it until 2023-24 to determine if esports will become a fully sanctioned (and funded) activity. .
“PlayVS made exemptions during the pandemic to play from home, but every time we go through all of this, they want us to play exclusively at school and we don’t have the equipment,” Kelty said. “Our second Rocket League team is playing here because two of the players don’t have stable internet to be able to play (from home).”
With seasons in the fall and spring, some high school athletes who are busy with other sports in the fall are free to join the esports team in the spring semester, including the Marching Drum Major Dragons Shawna Nyabuto and several members of the football team. Super Smash Brothers was just added in 2021 and Mario Kart is also brand new to PlayVS for 2022 which has been a big draw for students who grew up playing the games. In fact, 12 of the 28 team members have just joined in the past two months.
“I’ve always played Smash Bros, but it’s kind of like with friends and stuff,” Kelty said. “When it comes to esports, the best players know their character and all the other characters inside and out and their combos and how to lure them into combos and the truly elite know the weaknesses of those they’re playing (against).”
In Super Smash, players select from a pool of nearly 90 different fighters from a variety of different video games. Each character has their own unique strengths and abilities, and players try to use these advantages to knock their opponents out one stage.
“I was interested because I started playing with friends over lunch,” said senior Gabriel Bailey, who joined the team in the fall. “Somebody had a Switch and I got back into the game after years and years of not playing it. it; I just like that it feels more like a club and a place to hang out after school.
Zachary Northcutt is also a senior and new to esports.
“I’ve been a fan of the game for a while and I’m generally better than most of my friends, so it was kind of boring, to be honest, winning all the time,” he said. “The thing about Smash is that it’s a collection of a bunch of different characters from a bunch of different games.”
Northcutt’s favorite video game franchise, Kingdom Hearts, has just added its title character to the Super Smash lineup.
“It’s a super diverse cast; the game is pretty well balanced, so almost every character is viable in the competitive scene if you’re just good enough at it,” he said. “A lot of people don’t understand that esports is like any other sport. It takes a lot of hard work to be as good as these people.”
Northcutt added that due to the importance of split-second timing in competitive games, using unreliable WiFi can easily disrupt your movements and cost you a game. He hopes they can start playing in-person games again soon against other local teams.
“I’m better now than at the start of last season,” he said. “And my teammates are better too. In the beginning, there were huge disparities between our players and their skill levels, but because you always want to rise up to meet the challenge that your competitors bring to you, everyone has improved.
Kelty said he looked forward to designing team uniforms to bring a sense of pride to students.
“It’s one of the things I love about esports…it gives representation in school activities to a group of students who normally wouldn’t have participated – you have that sense of pride in playing for the sport. school for kids who may have only ever known before,” he said. “It was really cool to see them grow from a group of individuals with similar passions to a team .”
Former WMHS to host fundraiser for esports team
In addition to buying team uniforms, Kelty hopes the group can raise enough funds to buy a third Switch and possibly a few new Windows computers.
The first games of the season will feature the two Super Smash Brothers teams on Wednesday, February 23 and Rocket League, Mario Kart and Smite on Thursday, February 24, all after press time. Visit PlayVS.com or find William Monroe on Twitch to watch the live stream or check match scores.
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