BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — As members of Anthony Wayne High School’s first Esports team, Trevor Kiser, Josh Micham, Reece Kuchcinski and Joshua Spiess – also known as Tp3i, Josh 9999, Craziest Monk 2 and W0lfxx – are on a roll.
“So far it’s been easy for us,” said Reece, noting that having two Champ 3s and a Champ has boosted the team as they compete against other high school teams in Rocket League.
“It’s literally soccer with cars. It’s all geometry and physics based,” advisor Bryan DeKay said of Rocket League, a sport-based video game developed by Psyonix.
Logging into the computers in DeKay’s classroom, the team members demonstrate how to maneuver a vehicle that flies through the air with rocket blasters, with the objective of getting the ball and hitting it into a net. The game is scored like soccer – and it’s a lot harder than it looks.
Training for Rocket League includes fine motor skills and muscle memory, which take a lot of practice.
“It’s a game that’s so mechanically advanced, you can’t just jump in and play,” said DeKay, who not only has been playing Rocket League for several years, but began researching videos and coaches throughout the country. In December, the board of education gave him the go-ahead to start an Esports team.
Joshua, a freshman, started playing Xbox 360 by the time he was in kindergarten and Rocket League four years ago. As an alternate, he fills in when one of the other three can’t make it for the Wednesday games.
“He made the first score in our first game,” DeKay pointed out.
Reece, a senior and the team captain, started playing Rocket League when he was a freshman. Now he’s in the top 6 percent in the world. A four-year football player, Reece also played lacrosse for two years and ran track for one. When he saw the sign for Esports, he thought he might as well give it a try since it’s his senior year. Reece is ranked in the top 9 percent for 3 vs. 3 matches and in the top 6 percent for 2 vs. 2 matches in Rocket League.
Sophomore Trevor Kiser has been playing video games for nine years and Rocket League since 2016. He is ranked in the top 9 percent for 3 vs. 3 matches and in the top 5 percent for 2 vs. 2 matches.
“I had taken a class with Mr. DeKay and I loved his teaching style from the start. He’s an amazing guy! I love how my friends are on the team,” Trevor said.
One day Trevor invited Josh – a sophomore who plans to continue studying welding at Penta Career Center – to come play Rocket League with him and a teacher.
“I was confused on why he was going to do that,” Josh laughed, but since he’d been playing Rocket League for four years, he decided to give it a shot.
The experience so far has yielded few surprises and some benefits.
“It’s just as good as I imagined, and a benefit I’ve encountered is that I’ve made some friends off it,” said Trevor, who also plays rugby. “I get to have a good competitive gameplay action versus other schools in the same area.”
One of the benefits of an Esports team is that it allows traditional and nontraditional athletes to mix, DeKay said, noting that Reece hit the weight room before the Wednesday game.
“I’m meeting more people that I share an interest with,” Joshua agreed. “Normally, I probably wouldn’t have met Reece.”
The chemistry is friendly and positive, with the higher-level players like Reece supporting and offering assistance instead of criticism, DeKay said.
“They are so supportive of each other, and it’s awesome to see that,” DeKay added. “It’s a really good combination and one that we needed.”
While Anthony Wayne has had a video game club for several years, it only allows the players to interact with each other. Making the transition to an Esports team allows the players to not only compete with students in other districts, but also to try for scholarships and play Esports at the college level. Growing up playing video games, DeKay said he never imagined that Esports would grow to such magnitude.
“It’s on ESPN now and colleges are giving scholarships for competing. It’s another venue for kids who might not have an opportunity to get scholarships or have that team dynamic,” DeKay said.
The team is currently tied for second place in the division. The top two of 18 teams will advance to in-person land matches with the finals held at the University of Akron in its Esports arena. The event is sponsored by the Ohio High School Athletic Association, which gives out trophies and certificates. This year, Ohio has 86 teams in the league.