Raiders enter world of competitive esports

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Messenger photo by Dedra Cordle
Espn Henry, a freshman at London High School, plays “Overwatch” after school on Jan. 9. Henry said he plans to try out for the school’s esports varsity or junior varsity team for this game.

(Posted Jan. 17, 2020)

By Dedra Cordle, Staff Writer

Ever since a controller was placed in his hands when he was 9, Espn Henry has been enamored with video games. He was immediately drawn to the realistic graphics, then to the variety of offerings and then to the way they made him feel as he navigated challenging obstacles.

As he grew older, he branched out to pit his burgeoning skills against those of his friends and then those of strangers through the expansion of the multiplayer universe. At first, Henry took to his new medium as he played against gamers across the globe, but he soon discovered that not everyone was as courteous a player as he was.

Though his interest in video games–or at least the multiplayer games–cooled after that experience, he couldn’t help but be intrigued when his school announced last fall that it was starting an esports club.

“I was very interested in joining, but I thought it would be a toxic environment,” said Henry, a freshman at London High School.

Dillan Shumaker, the club’s founder and advisor, as well as London City Schools’ technology coordinator, shared that concern.

“I have been playing video games and been around the gaming world long enough to be well aware of the negative things that can be said, especially when you involve multiplayer gamers,” Shumaker said. “But after speaking with Lou Kramer (the school district’s superintendent), we felt we needed to give the students a chance to explore this growing sport and allow them the chance to share in and create a positive experience with fellow gamers.”

When the doors to London High School’s media center opened for the new club in late October, Shumaker said he continued to wonder if it was the right idea.

“There were so many people here, and all of the avid gamers flocked to the new computers that were more equipped for the speed of the games,” he said with a laugh. “Despite the fact that all of the other computers are near the same level of compatibility, it was hard to get them away from these six computers. So, I had to lay out some ground rules for them to follow.”

The number one rule was not to mess up.

Messenger photo by Dedra Cordle
James Kuplinger (front), a sophomore at London High School, works on his “Rocket League” gaming skills. Through the game’s ranking system, Kuplinger is considered to be in the top tier of “Rocket League” players in the world. He is a member of London’s new esports club.

“I told them that this would be our only chance to make a good impression, to prove to our school and administration that they made the right choice by allowing us to have this club,” Shumaker said. “I told them that they had to share, they had to behave and that they had to take care of the equipment.”

After the slightly choppy start, Shumaker said, it has been smooth sailing.

“They have impressed me so much with their behavior,” he said. “They have been so supportive of each other and really willing to help others improve their skills, and not just for the sake of potential team victories down the road.”

London High School’s esports club plans to participate in competitions through its affiliation with Esports Ohio. (Esports are not a sanctioned sport through the Ohio High School Athletic Association.) The competition season starts in February. To prepare, London’s Red Raiders gamers are scrimmaging with clubs across the state.

The four games included in competitions are “League of Legends,” “Overwatch,” “Rocket League” and “Super Smash Brothers.” So far, London has amassed an impressive number of scrimmage wins, especially in “Rocket League.”

“We have one of the best ‘Rocket League’ players in the world on our team,” Shumaker said, referring to sophomore James Kuplinger.

Kuplinger said he has been gaming since he was in the sixth grade and found his niche in the fast-paced world of “Rocket League.”

“I discovered I was really good at car soccer,” he said.

In the years since he was introduced to the popular game, he has achieved the level of Champion 3.

Messenger photo by Kristy Zurbrick
Jacob Yearout (right), a freshman at London High School, challenges London school board member Darryl Brown to a game of “Super Smash Brothers” following a presentation at a recent school board meeting about the high school’s new esports club.

“It’s for the top 1 or 2 percent of players,” Shumaker said. “Like I said, he’s really good.”

The talent, both proven and blooming, in the club is another reason why Kramer said he approved of the formation of the club.

“The world of esports has been growing immensely and rapidly,” said the superintendent. “Not only can these players make a lot of money if they go professional, but it opens them up to so many scholarship opportunities and job opportunities as more and more schools are starting their own clubs and developing undergrad degrees for the gaming industry.”

Shumaker said that since October, he has fielded calls from collegiate recruiters asking about some of the club’s players.

“I don’t really know what they’re asking sometimes when they get into the greater details of positions, but I know it’s a positive that they are showing interest in our students already,” he said.

Club members practice Monday through Thursday after school and scrimmage whenever affiliated schools are available. Soon, Shumaker will hold tryouts for junior varsity and varsity teams for each of the four games eligible for competition.

Freshman Jacob Yearout believes London has the potential to win the esports league championship this year.

“I think we are going to do amazing this year,” he stated. “If we all keep working together and supporting each other, we are going to be unstoppable.”

As for Henry, he overcame his reservations about the club and is now debating whether to try out for a spot on the “Overwatch” junior varsity or varsity team.

“I’m still improving at the game, but I think it wouldn’t hurt to try,” he said.

It also doesn’t hurt that he knows his clubmates have his back as he makes strides in the gaming world.

“It’s been a good surprise,” he said.

Shumaker said the club remains open to new members. Though most of the current members are young men, Shumaker wants young women at the school to know they are welcome to join, too.

“I know there are female gamers out there,” he said, “and I just want them to know that this club is open for everyone.”

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