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Bay Port Esports Club gives students a place to play

By Ben Rodgers

SUAMICO – A group of students at Bay Port High School who previously didn’t have a niche have found a place of their own tucked away in a classroom on the second floor of their school.

The Bay Port Esports Club started in October 2017 with a donation from the Howard-Suamico Education Foundation of $10,000.

Now students can come and play games, socialize in person and a few are even state champions.

The club fields competitive teams in “League of Legends,” “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate,” “Fortnite,” “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,” “Rainbow Six Siege,” and “Overwatch.”

Each game has a varsity and junior varsity roster and student captains set the practice schedule.

“Think about what a coach does, all of the things a coach does, and essentially a lot of these students are doing all of those things,” said Luc Richards, a business education teacher who advises the club. “Whether it’s scouting, creating a plan to get better, setting up their own tournament, or their own sparring matches, it’s a constant self-reflection, self-adjustment and preparation cycle they continuously go through to get better.”

A typical week might include watching a competitor’s game film, practice focused on special techniques, game plan and strategy creation and then implementing those skills before the match.

“They all have a super high level of strategy,” Richards said. “It’s one of those things. At a football game, you see they run 26 times a game, and they pass 40 times a game, but you don’t necessarily see the creation of the routes and passes, that’s what these kids are working on.”

Students compete in Richard’s classroom against other schools in the Wisconsin High School Esports Association, or WHSESA, over the internet.

When the WHESA started, the Bay Port club was just getting started as well.

Richards said the local club is actually considered a founding member of the group.

It makes sense then that Bay Port won an “Overwatch” invitational last year, after going undefeated in regular season play.

“There are bragging rights to it, but at the end of the day it’s playing a game you love and you get to play other students who love the game as well,” said Evan Delveaux, a senior and “Overwatch” captain.

Overwatch is a mix of a first-person shooter and a multiplayer online battle arena. Each of the five varsity members picks a different character with different skill sets and then the group completes various objectives.

“I took on the lead role of captain and started building up the team, building varsity and junior varsity, and this past fall when we won the invitational, I stepped back,” Delveaux said. “Now I am in the role of coach and helping pick a captain for next year, because I’m not going to be here.”

He was previously in the school’s robotics club when a friend told him about being able to play video games at school.

“It was great, I don’t know how else to explain it,” Delveaux said. “I had the ability to grow and I took that and it led me to where I am now in the club.”

Perhaps the most difficult game, not only strategy-wise, but because players play one-on-one, is Smash Bros.

In the game, players pick a character from Nintendo’s storied past and face off in a fight against an opponent.

Team members are ranked and then face off against players with the same rank from a different school.

“More than anything else it takes a lot of dedication,” said Tanner Tilkens, a junior captain. “You got to put a lot of time and focus into knowing what’s new and not, moves and combos and a lot of time practicing.”

To be competitive in Smash, Tilkens said players have to hit the jump button and release it within 1/20 of a second throughout the entire battle. Then of course there is knowing the moves and countering what the opponent does.

“You have to be smart,” said Caleb Hanson, a senior and the other captain. “You’re playing 10 games of rock-paper-scissors every second. It’s live action chess.”

When asked if he ever thought he would lead a team of his peers in competitive video gaming while in high school, Hanson didn’t mince words.

“Of course not,” he said. “This is a dream you would have as a freshman, ‘I’d love to represent my school in Smash and compete against other schools.’”

Richards said competition isn’t just among high schools.

He said esports is expected to become a $1.65-billion-a-year industry by 2020.

Keep in mind, esports only got started in 2012, while the NFL which has been around for nearly a century, is an $8 billion a year industry.

It’s entirely possible a top-tier competitive gamer can earn more than $1 million a year. One game tournament even paid a top prize of $10.8 million last year.

All NBA teams now have competitive esports teams, as the industry is starting to become established across the world.

Those tournaments also require people who plan, do the accounting, organize brackets, do public relations and more.

“It’s this super crazy ecosystem of a new frontier,” Richards said.

Currently due to space constrictions, each varsity team at Bay Port sets its practice schedule to maximize the limited space.

Though Richards is grateful for what the club has, he said the club has value and the potential to give more students a niche to call their own.

“People see the value,” he said. “They see these kids who didn’t have a niche and now they’re starting to work themselves into the fabric of Bay Port.”

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