eSports takes gaming to potential IHSA level with November tournament

Junior Armani Garcia represents East’s eSports team at the Nov. 23rd Smash Brothers tournament hosted at the high school. Photo by Olivia Cluchey.

East’s eSports team, a club for organized video gaming, marks their seventh year of running out of their Sponsor Amy Whitlock’s French classroom. While they mainly operate without any official school activities, a self-organized Super Smash Bros tournament was held at East on 23rd November 23rd, furthering the club to be recognized as an official school sport.

While the type of gaming differs from what most would qualify as a sport, senior Overwatch captain Ryan Scovill said that gaming is just what the players need in a club that encourages their interests.

 “I’ve always been interested in video games. Ever since I was a young child, I’ve been using a computer and console to play games online. I’m also a naturally competitive person and enjoy the feeling of belonging — the same feeling you get from being on a sports team. However, I’m not all too athletic, so why not play a game I’m good at in a competitive environment with friends?” Scovill asked.

Club Sponsor Amy Whitlock, who has run the club for all of its seven years, said that the club’s difference from traditional sports is what gives students opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise get.

“I think that … maybe they’re not good at … a traditional sport. Maybe not good with a ball or good at running, but their hand-eye coordination is really good and they have intense focus and things that [wouldn’t] benefit them in a typical sports environment. And that’s why they go to , because that’s where their talents might lie,” Whitlock added.

Joining the club offers them more than what they would get from just gaming alone, according to some. The physical environment lets them experience their favorite activities surrounded by people who share those same interests and can relate with each other, building a community that could be hard to reach locally. It can be difficult finding other people around who share the same interests when most multi-player gaming is built around national boundaries and majorly consists of strangers being connected online, alone in their own space.

“Overall … gaming tends to be kind of solitary, while social at the same time,” Whitlock said. “And, I think, making it a physical activity where we can be together is five times better than sitting alone in your bedroom. [And if we didn’t have the eSports team, the members] would, unfortunately, continue to play in their own environments [alone].”

Junior League of Legends captain Evan Moss said that gaming within the community of the club benefits him more than when he plays a game alone.

“[Gaming with the team is] a lot more relaxed than when I play solo. I usually go into the try hard mode when I play alone, but when I play with the team, we get to relax and see how our personalities meld, and try and figure new things out. We really just like playing in the same space, and messing with each other,” Moss said.

This builds community through gaming together, Whitlock added, saying that it also really depends on the game. Some games played are solo-based and work with a singular player, where the eSports team tries to push more team-based, communicative gaming where multiple players can work together to achieve a central goal.

In community gaming, a sense of brotherhood can be fostered that is otherwise absent in other forms of gaming, according to Scovill.

“When gaming together, or really just as a group, you feel this sense of belonging and companionship. The act of playing becomes a bonding experience for everyone involved, especially since everyone is relying on one another to reach one goal: to win,” Scovill said.

As with other sports, gaming also provides education in typical areas such as communication, strategy, manners, emotional regulation, among others.

“I learned that optimism, constantly striving for improvement, and looking for positive relationships within the team are the best way to go about playing. These skills can transfer to outside the eSports environment as well,” Scovill said.

Online gaming is a place where, usually, no one can stop anyone from saying and doing whatever they want to other people. Microphones are often utilized for team chat to communicate across screens. This leads a lot of the gaming community to be recognized for toxic behavior that can offend their teammates or the opposing team and, in the end, faces little to no repercussions, being online.

Members of the Smash Bros team — (from left to right) — juniors Tristan Hart, Mason Lebeck, Armani Garcia, Gabriel Fisher, Mujtaba Mohammed, Harry Hvratin, and Ryan Dial — pause for a moment of brotherhood at the November 23rd tournament hosted at East. “ESports provides students who wouldn’t qualify for traditional sports the opportunity to not only diversify socially, meet new people, and diversify their own interests, but also gain some of the benefits of traditional sports, such as scholarships” junior Tristen Hart said. Photo by Olivia Cluchey.

“When gaming together, or really just as a group, you feel this sense of belonging and companionship. The act of playing becomes a bonding experience for everyone involved, especially since everyone is relying on one another to reach one goal: to win.”

— senior Ryan Scovill

Gaming together allows educators to teach students why the discriminatory and otherwise rude behavior that frequents their community is not acceptable, according to Whitlock. Whitlock went on to say that if players don’t get that education, players tend to remain in their own environment and mindset where they think that those actions are acceptable.

That is, Whitlock continued, one of the biggest draws of gaming with the eSports team, where you can, by changing your environment, change your community.

“Nothing stops you from being a jerk at home, but we can stop you from being a jerk here,” Whitlock said.

The eSports team additionally gives those who may not fit in in any other sport or activity a place where they can be surrounded by people who share similar interests, just like any other club or sport does. This allows these kids to transform in ways they wouldn’t be able to without the club and people they meet, Whitlock explained.

“The biggest change [I saw] was a student who graduated two years ago,” Whitlock said. “He started off very quiet and ended up being a really good leader [and] shot-caller [on the team] … I think I got to see a side of him that lots of other people didn’t, which was really interesting.”

According to Moss, the gaming experience can provide even more personal growth.

“I think I changed,” Moss said. “Because I was rather stressed when I first came to OE, because of some issues I was having personally. It gave me a break when I really needed it. It also helped me express my competitive side. I can’t really say for anyone else, but I feel like we grew to understand more about esports and find an interest that wasn’t well known when we first came to this school.”

Junior Super Smash Bros captain Mason Lebeck said that the overall experience has changed him due to the people he has met within the club.

“I’ve learned to be more confident with myself and I’ve learned that the happier the whole team is the better we all perform. I’ve seen myself become a better person. Everyone makes everyone happy and we all enjoy the camaraderie,” Lebeck said.

Scovill added that the relationships they have built with other team members has helped them grow in and out of the game.

“The team I had last year grew into one big friend group, and we continue to hang out outside of school whenever we can. The team became more than just a team. Not only that, but we all started off at different skill levels, and as time passed, those at higher skill caps helped those at lower ones improve at the game. We wanted to help one another be the best we could be,” Scovill said.

The eSports team continues to expand their club and include more ways that more students can become involved with their hobbies, hoping to be officially recognized by the Illinois High School Association as a legitimate school sport or organization. This is possible due to the November tournament, organized by Whitlock and members of the club.

The tournament hosted upwards of 20 high schools in the area.

Officially recognized, the club would get a place on the IHSA website and receive funding and opportunities to compete and participate in more club activities. 

Lebeck explained that the IHSA status would affect the manner in which the club is currently running, providing new opportunities for the club’s members, including resources for activities.

“[The school] would supply the gear,” Lebeck said. “You see how we have all of our [Nintendo] Switches and stuff here? I have [my Switch] back there … we all bring our own controllers, but it would be, instead, the school [or] state provides all the gear we would need [to play]. [And] that’d be really great.”

Until then, Lebeck continued, the eSports team anticipates another Super Smash Bros tournament in the upcoming spring of 2020 and looks to find more games they could include to broaden their activity range and encourage membership.

Olivia Cluchey is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

Leave a Reply