A new generation of area sports players is headed for state finals this month, but their battleground will be computer screens rather than a traditional field.
The eSports Super Smash Bros. competitive gaming team from Four County Career Center in Archbold has qualified as one of the sport’s top eight teams in Ohio. The team will travel to Tiffin University on Nov. 23 to fight for the state title, the only northwest Ohio eSports team to do so.
FCCC’s Super Smash Bros. team members Michael Montgomery, Mason Young, Daniel Martinez, Blake Tackett, Enrique Gomez, and Rick Birkhold bested eight teams in their conference to reach the state finals. Competing in individual matches, they must win quarterfinal, semifinal, and final tournaments at Tiffin to grab the Ohio title.
Team coach Matt Geiger, an FCCC IT instructor who teaches computer programming and game design, said the electronic sport may soon become as traditional as football and basketball.
“It’s a sport like any other sport. It’s becoming one of the most popular spectator events,” he said. “All the things that kids get out of other sports, they get out of this as well.”
In fact, Tiffin University has even built an eSports arena for play, Geiger noted. And colleges with eSports teams offer players sports scholarships.
Last spring, FCCC joined other schools that formed the Ohio eSports League. The league limits itself to competing in four electronic games – Super Smash Bros., Rocket League, Overwatch, and League of Legends. This fall, 67 schools participated, with FCCC recruiting 28 students across the individual games.
Geiger, who is assisted by Tim Ricketts, said the intensity of play, strategy, and teamwork in electronic gaming is as important as with any competitive sport. Team members are also held to the same high standard; like other team sports, they must meet the eligibility requirements, including, at least a 2.0 grade point average.
“For some of our students, that has been a big motivator to keep their grades up,” he said.
Each game has its own team and set of rules. FCCC’s four teams were formed last spring, and underwent a trial season. “It was kind of a big test, working out technology and logistics,” Geiger said. They challenged teams from other schools from FCCC’s home base using Discord, a communication tool designed for online video gaming.
Once each week, the school’s eSports teams practice together and have a match. And because it’s an online competition, team members can gain extra practice at their own convenience.
The players joined the teams as individual competitors and had to adapt to a team effort, Geiger said. “I think they’re fantastic,” he said. “It’s amazing how the teams have grown together. They root for each other and critique each other. They’re extremely competitive.”
Of the school’s four teams this season, FCCC’s Super Smash Bros. team was the sole qualifier for state finals.
FCCC Superintendent Tim Meister said eSports feeds directly into the program Geiger instructs.
“To me, it’s a natural fit,” he said. “It gives our kids a chance to be competitive in the skill set they learned at Four County.” And it gives them a competitive opportunity that will benefit them in life beyond their education, he added.
Team member Michael Montgomery, a Patrick Henry High School senior, said he discovered his talent for gaming at a young age. “It’s sort of cool for a school to be allowing opportunities like this, so I want to be a big advocate of that,” he said.
Montgomery said, despite it’s relatively new designation among high school competitions, “I see this definitely as a sport. Competition is what drives a sport, and you have the same level of competition driving your team to excellence.”
According to Geiger, electronic gaming has secured a place among professional sport competitions on a global scale.
“eSports is huge all over the world. The kids watch them online,” he said. “It’s bigger than just sitting on your couch playing video games. It’s growing extremely quickly.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.