MCDONALD'S SWNEWS4U.COM CO-GAME OF THE WEEK (Jan. 17–24)
PREP ESPORTS: Division 3 2022 Esports State Tournament
By Tom Gunnell, Republican Journal/Tri-Country Press
MADISON – The Benton/Scales Mound/Shullsburg esports team invaded Madison last Saturday with a single goal in mind- to bring home a state title. The Knights did so with authority.
With a pair of 3-0 victories over Walden III High School (Racine) and Fennimore High School, the BSMS Knights’ Overwatch team captured the Division 3 State Championship at the 2022 Esports State Tournament hosted by the Wisconsin High School Esports Association (WHSEA) at Madison College on Saturday, Jan. 22.
The Knights joined D1’s Bay Port and D2’s Madison Edgewood as state champions in the game of Overwatch, a team-based multiplayer first-person shooter game in which two teams of six vs. six work to complete map-specific objectives within a limited period of time. Players select their characters from a large roster, known as “heroes’, with unique abilities.
Team captain Colin Montayne (tank) led teammates Owen Fennell (tank), Garrett Ray (support), Isaac Hefferan (support), Nevada Sandlin (DPS) and Luke Unbehaun (DPS). Montayne, Ray and Sandlin were selected as All-State recipients following the competition with Montayne earning MVP honors.
“The team worked really hard this year. After losing their first game of the season, I thought it was going to be a long road to state, but these players absolutely proved me wrong, winning every single game and match since that loss,” said Coach Brooks Duff-Bowers.
“They had late night practices, accommodating any player who was involved in another sport. They were largely autonomous, because they practiced so late, I wasn't able to really watch them practice too often. Colin, the team captain, did a great job of making sure they had practice, and keeping them focused on their goals. They improved so much over this season, and I cannot wait for them to show what they can do next year.”
Esports is a pretty new sports’ program offered by the area schools, but it is a program that has grown rapidly in popularity over a small period of time. Duff-Bowers noted that he has over 30 students competing on the various BSMS teams this season. Each semester the WHSEA sponsors two different games for schools across the state to compete in against one another in both varsity and junior varsity competitions.
The competitions are held online with team members sometimes participating with school computers and others using their gaming equipment at home.
“We were so lucky that our administrations and school boards were on board with this program from the start, even providing us with some start-up funding to improve our equipment. This year we received a generous donation that allowed us to build a new computer for our team, proving the student with a really great STEM opportunity as well,” Duff-Bowers commented.
Last year, the BSMS team had a 5-4 record and lost in the state quarterfinals to Bruce by a 3-2 margin. This year the team– with many of the same players as last year– posted an 11-1 record on the way to earning the state title.
“These guys have had a lot of time to get good at communicating with each other, knowing each other's play styles, and that’s why they were able to do so much better this year,” Duff-Bowers pointed out.
While all of the players on the Overwatch team are involved in other athletic sports, Duff-Bowers explained some of the other esport teams at the school have students who aren't able to or have no desire to play traditional sports. Esports provides them an opportunity to participate in a competitive setting and the chance to improve their skills, while also giving them a reason to perform well in school.
“Some students may have some health problems preventing them from playing traditional sports. Or, they may have other commitments they need to attend to. Or, maybe, they just don’t like athletic sports. Esports provides a chance for a non-traditional setting that many students thrive in. It is so much more than ‘just video gaming’,” remarked Duff-Bowers.
“The players are held to the same standard as our other student athletes, so they need to keep their grades up to play. For many of them, this motivates them to keep their grades up and perform better in school, which they didn't have before.”
The video game industry is a multi-billion dollar business and esports has become a multi-million dollar industry in itself and it is still growing and growing. Students can receive scholarships to play esports at the collegiate level, and the games have found there way onto mainstream media with television networks such as ESPN broadcasting the competitions.
“Esports is just as legitimate of an option as any other sport. The amount of technical skill you need to have to be successful in this game is far more than most other sports too. Hand-eye coordination, accuracy, ability timing, ability usage, all of these hard skills that these kids need to perfect. The soft skills too, teamwork, communication, leadership, a team cannot win without these,” said Duff-Bowers.
At Saturday’s state tournament event, representatives from 14 colleges from around the midwest were on hand and spoke on various panels throughout the day, including presentations on how esports fit into life in college and the relationship between esports and mental health.
State titles were also handed out to Racine Case (D1), Elkhorn (D2), Fox Valley Lutheran (D3) and Random Lake (D4) in the game of Super Smash Bros., a fighting game series published by Nintendo, which primarily features characters from various Nintendo franchises.
Starting in February, the BSMS esports teams will resume competition in two new games.