New MHS eSports club allows gamers to compete with teams across the nation

Scott Reckers | Staff Writer

The Mason High School eSports club has joined the game.

ESports, competitive video gaming, has been around since the 1970s,  but has gained a lot of traction in recent years due to the rising popularity of video games and increasing the demand for competition. Players can compete in team games, like tactical shooter game Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, as well as individual games such as Nintendo’s crossover fighting game, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Smash). In addition, the MHS club has teams for Rocket League, Overwatch, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Fortnite, Valorant, and Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. 

Senior Ayush Verma, captain of the Smash team, also helped found the now dissolved Smash club, which laid the framework for the eSports club. Verma is a fan of professional eSports and wanted to see that community in his school. 

“I’m pretty excited about it,” Verma said. “I’ve been playing games my whole life, and I watch a lot of eSports so I know how big of a scene it is. I was expecting it to push into highschool because over the past couple years it’s been growing mainly in the college scene. Now that it is in high school, where I can directly interact with it, it feels pretty gratifying.”

Traditional sports have been more difficult to pull off in the pandemic. As a result, eSports has been getting much more attention. Verma said this was due to the fact that “it was a safe and easy form of competitive entertainment” that one could both participate and spectate from COVID-safe environments. When competitors can be anywhere in the world, social distancing and mask wearing is the least of concerns. 

The first competition MHS will compete in, the Winter Challenge hosted by the High School eSports League, or HSEL, is not held back by COVID worries either. The tournament hosts several games, all beginning in group stages and later moving onto playoff stages where finals will be livestreamed for viewers to watch.

The freedom of eSports is convenient, but still requires planning and organization. Mark Wyatt, teacher and eSports director for MHS, does just that. Because of the many teams for different games, it would be rather impossible to manage all of them alone, so Wyatt appointed captains for each team, setting up Discord channels for each as a means of communications for large communities.

While captains were selected more arbitrarily at first, Wyatt said that he is looking forward to watching leaders develop and establish themselves in the teams later on in their competitions.

“I selected captains for each team, because each team has to have one to queue in the matches,” Wyatt said. “I mostly selected kids in my class just so I have a way to quickly communicate, but as teams have met there are definitely players more enthusiastic about taking charge. As the season goes on I think it will be interesting to see how the team leadership shakes out.”

Senior co-captain Drew Elfers leads the Rainbow Six Siege team along with Yousif Alshathir. Elfers is no stranger to the traditional team environment, as he has been playing lacrosse since grade 5. Elfers said that his hours on the lacrosse field trained him for that kind of sport, but eSports calls for a different kind of conditioning. 

“Lacrosse is a lot more of a physical battle,” Elfers said. “You have to work through, persevere. That’s conditioning, that’s stamina. But in eSports, it’s all mentality. All you have is a keyboard, mouse, and headset to listen, but that’s about it. The tough part is you have to be mentally strong in order to do well in eSports.”

With experience on both sides of the table, Elfers has respect for both sports and the skills they require. Balancing school and lacrosse while competing for both Mason’s Rainbow Six Siege and Rocket League eSports teams shows the flexible nature of eSports that contrasts the traditional world of sports. While Elfers sees the differences between the two, he said that he still believes eSports has similarities to traditional sports at its core.

“eSports are still a battle,” Elfers said. “When you’re sitting down and playing eSports, it’s definitely more of a mentally challenging battle than you would think. There’s so much you have to plan for and so much you have to strategize. It’s way more than a casual game night.”

Like any muscle, the brain and its strength can be trained. Practice, although different from traditional sports practices, is essential in eSports, especially for a team-based technical game like Rainbow Six Siege. “We go into some ranked game modes and discuss strategy,” Elfers said. “Our coaches help us with strategy a lot. They analyze gameplay and then they tell us what we’re doing wrong and how we can fix it.”

Elfers and his team found a lot of points to work on after their first game in the group stages of the Winter Challenge. In their first match of the group stages, Elfers said they got “blown out of the water”, but said that the only way to improve is to make mistakes, and he and his team are dedicated to correcting them in order to be a force to be reckoned with in competition. 

“There’s always something you can improve on any sport,” Elfers said. “Our goal is to figure out those things as fast as possible so that we can play better competition as fast as possible.” Two games later, they did just that and claimed their maiden win.

Practice and competition can teach competitors how to win and lose and over all become better competitors and people. Teammates will be there for each other when they lose a tough match and it is this new social avenue that could prove to be a valuable asset to some members. Verma is a remote learner for the year and said talking to old and new friends alike has been refreshing, giving him something to continue to look forward to throughout the year.

“I’ve already seen this benefiting a decent amount of people already,” Verma said. “It gives a common place where people who enjoy games can come together. The interactions I see within group chats, I’m definitely seeing people being able to branch out and I’m sure I’ll be seeing new friendships form from this group.”

Graphics by Rachel Cai