BY KRISTI FISH | MIRROR REPORTER — The winningest team this spring at Maumee High School does not run laps or lift weights, but it has moved on to the state championships.
Esports – or electronic sports – is new to the school. The idea was brought forward in 2019, but the pandemic meant this was the first full year for the players.
“This is our first full year and fall was our first full season,” coach Dan Samuel said. “We did Overwatch in the fall and our record was 6-1. We went to regionals and did not make it past the first round.”
Now, the team is playing Valorant and was undefeated in the regular season, earning the first seed at regionals on May 14. The team won the Esports Ohio northwest regional finals and is now headed to the state championships, which will be held on Saturday and Sunday, June 18-19 at The University of Akron.
In the Esports Ohio league, there are several different games that can be played. Valorant is just one of them.
While the objective is simple – win – how it’s carried out is different. Each game of Valorant has several rounds and each round starts the same: on a map. However, as the rounds go on, teams have the ability to ban maps and are given different advantages based on the previous round’s end result in order to change up the playing field.
“The objective, if you’re defending, is you either want to eliminate all the enemies or you want to defuse the spike, which is kind of like a bomb,” senior Andrew Bick said. “The attackers have to buy enough time for the bomb to go off or eliminate the other team.”
To win a game, the team must be the first to win 13 rounds; or if the game goes to overtime, the team must win by two. Each match consists of two games.
In its simplest form, Valorant is a game that requires dexterity and clever moves. Just like any other sport, the players want to win, and the only way they can do that is by being better than the other team. One of the many ways to do that is through practice.
Members of the esports team have a specific room at school to practice in – they don’t only practice from home. The equipment in the room has been upgraded to include gaming mice, keyboards and headsets. The chairs aren’t basic desk chairs. Everything in the room is designed to make sure the team can appropriately prepare for competition.
“We built the system ourselves up to spec so that they can actually game competitively,” Samuel said. “We’ve got a special network for this room that basically allows them unfettered access, so they don’t have to worry about the firewall blocking anything. We’re wired and they have a really fast connection.”
The team holds practices and scrimmages just like any other sport and players are encouraged to practice at home to continuing honing their skills. Also, just like any other sport, the students are held to academic standards.
“They’re held up to everything that the other sports teams are held up to,” Samuel said. “The only thing that we don’t do is we don’t go into the gym, we don’t lift weights, we don’t make them run around the building.”
The players even scout out other teams and learn from previous games, just like any other sport.
“It’s common practice in sports. Football teams trade reels, and you’ve got the same things for baseball teams,” Samuel said. “You have scouts coming to watch them play. It’s no different here.”
Sophomore Aurata Sloup has made it her mission in the past to watch the games other teams post online and to make note of what the players do and how the team should react to that. Sloup is quick to point out that traditionally, sports require competition, skill and astuteness, something esports also needs.
“The thing about esports is people don’t recognize it as a real sport because you’re not actively doing something, it’s not physically demanding,” Sloup said.
In “real sports,” society typically pictures players doing traditional physical activity and – in professional sports – players making money. Esports can do the latter.
“It can be very profitable. They had a Fortnite tournament and a guy won $3 million. Tiger Woods only won $2 million for the Masters,” Samuel said.
It’s a sticking point for the young players when others are dismissive of the sport and what they do. Esports isn’t just sitting in a chair, staring at the computer. It requires training and an expert eye to be any good.
The team has done something difficult: It has made it to states and is undefeated this season. It’s not something just anybody can do.
“I just want to normalize it,” Bick said.
For students who want to try out for the team and are interested in esports on a competitive level, Samuel said he is hoping to continue to grow the team after this year and to allow students the opportunity to represent the school.
“I am a big gamer as well, and I thought it was a great opportunity to help other kids that want to represent the school,” Samuel said. “In esports, it gives them something they can do and be proud of. I like that.”
The MHS esports varsity team will compete at states the weekend of June 18 at The University of Akron. Information about the league can also be found at esportsohio.org.