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A student giving one the computers their first test run before officially meeting this week. 

There’s a new sport on the scene, and it’s different from anything you’re thinking. There’s no ball or running, but teamwork is still the name of the game: esports. Esports are competitions in video games, done through collaboration and knowledge of game mechanics, just like any physical sport. And best of all, it’s perfect for the Mayer Lutheran High School students during the COVID-19 pandemic since it can be done from anywhere.

“We’ve been trying to expand robotics, and we just wanted to bring in more stuff,” said Ben Schulteis, science teacher and esports coach at Mayer Lutheran High School. “We thought there’s really no reason not to since it fits in already, and this year was the perfect storm for recruiting kids who needed something to do.”

With robotics being limited to a few months, the students in the program have been encouraged to work on several of their own tech projects. After hearing some interest from them, and seeing the interest for esports increasing in schools around the country, Schulteis and Matt McClintock, technology coordinator and the other coach of the team, began working to put a program together.

There were a few reasons to get this off the ground as well, according to McClintock. For one, it allows students that may not be interested in or able to be part of physical sports to have an activity all their own. Esports would also be open to everyone who has an interest in it and the games being played, which would allow a lot of diversity among the kids involved. Since esports also involve teams, and run year round, it would also allow students to socialize and form friend groups they may not have known before.

“Even without COVID, this was something we were already looking into,” said McClintock.

The first step was to find a national organization, similar to FIRST Robotics, so be a part of and compete in. The one they found offered a total of 13 video games that qualified, and they chose about 10 that were very possible and fairly friendly. Games include Overwatch, Fortnite, Rocket League, Super Smash Brothers, Minecraft, Hearthstone, NBA 2K and Madden 2K. And though it’s not part of the organization, Mario Kart tournaments are already being talked about among the students.

There’s also some good news about purchasing the rigs these games will be played on: while computers can be pricey, they don’t have to be.

“With the new rise in architecture, there are some very affordable machines that will still have good frame rates and graphics,” said McClintock.

What the two coaches are looking at in terms of computers runs roughly $700 to $800 per machine, with Nintendo Switches running much lower than that for Smash Brothers and Mario Kart. The computers can also have their parts individually upgraded if necessary, and would hopefully be used in other departments such as the CAD Lab and programming classes.

The hope, based off the interest so far is to start with seven or eight machines. If there are more students interested, the plan is to get more as they need them. After all, they don’t want to purchase more than they need and not have them be used. Students would also be allowed to bring and use their own machines for playing if they chose. Oddly enough, this is one of the biggest benefits to esports in general. Not only is it all year, but so long as a student has an internet connection and a good computer, they can join in the fun from anywhere.

“The more kids we get, the more computers we buy,” said McClintock.

“The nice thing is they don’t all play their games every day,” Schulteis added. “If they want to play Smash that day, that means we have a computer free for someone if they want to play Overwatch or Fortnite.”

The plan is to have practice days throughout the week, with one official match each week. Robotics will be done in the same room, so capacity will have to be considered when it comes to putting together meet ups. There are also plans to stream via Twitch so people and teammates can watch from home.

And so far, parents are very excited and understanding about this new activity.

“My defense of it is it allows for teamwork and community that’s about as safe as you can be,” said Schulteis. “In the long run, I think of the main reasons we have athletics in school is that it’s important to learn teamwork, constructive criticism, perseverance are all what those coaches talk about, and we’ll be teaching them here too.”

The esports team will officially begin meeting on September 22, with a practice run on September 14 to make sure all the computers are ready and working. They will be going through their league to arrange competitions throughout the year. With over 3000 schools nationally to compete with, the sky’s the limit.

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