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It's more than video games: YHS forms esports squad

Bill Choy
Mount Shasta Herald
Yreka High eSports head coach Josh Thompson monitors a recent game.

The popularity of competitive video game playing, more commonly known as esports, has surged across the world in recent years, and it's no different in Siskiyou County. Last year, Yreka High School became the first school in the county to form an esports squad.

Esports basically turns video game playing into a sport. In some scenarios, it’s on an individual level, but mostly it’s through teams. It's something that many people don't know much about - especially the older generation, said YHS junior Brayden Rice.

More:Why watch other people play video games? What you need to know about esports

“I would like people to know that esports is worldwide community that accepts absolutely anyone that has some skill and tons of passion for video games," Rice said.

YHS esports head coach Josh Thompson, a chemistry, astronomy, and physics teacher said he's pleased the school is able to offer students a chance to play esports, since it gives his team the sense that their love of video games is a positive, not a negative. 

“I’m glad they have this positive outlet,” Thompson said of the team's eight participants, adding that participating on an esports team in high school could lead players to earn scholarships to colleges who want to recruit them, or to jobs in the technology industry. 

A recent League of Legends match the Yreka High eSports squad took part in.

Rice said he enjoys the "sense of community" and "being with those you can relate to."

When asked what he would like more people to know about eSports, Rice said he would like to dispel the myth that “eSports is just a "fake sport" and "full of nerds," which he said  isn't the case.

While YHS has facilities needed to play esports, due to COVID-19 restrictions, students that have the computers and technology needed to play games live are doing so from their homes.

“It's a fun and very safe option throughout this COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rice. “There is no chance of spreading this virus and that's really cool and I know it puts some people at ease.”  

“One of the benefits for me is that I get a bit of social time with those outside of my home,” Rice added. “I really enjoy filling that little extroverted part of me even if it has to be over online connections ... esports is a fresh, new, and amazing experience. I recommend that everyone does a little bit of research on it to see what all of these kids like me are crazy about these days.” 

Thompson is hopeful more kids will participate next season when the computers at the school are available again. For now, practices are conducted online.

More:These south Siskiyou schools opened classrooms during a pandemic. Here's how it's going

"It’s been overall an amazing experience,” said YHS freshman eSports player Jeremy Sutter. “I think it’s caught on because a lot of younger people enjoy games.”

An added bonus? "I get new friends," Sutter said. "And also, I love my team. They are like family.” 

Thompson said YHS plays mainly much bigger schools but said they have been holding their own. They have competed against teams from high schools all over the country, as well as Canada. And although the team is young this year, and includes two freshman, Thompson is looking to the future.

“We understand the next few years are going to be building years. I think we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with the longer we play. It takes time.” 

There are two teams this year, Thompson explained. One plays the game "League of Legends," in which players form a team of five and assume the role of a champion, characters with unique abilities, generally varying around a type of class, and battle against a team of player- or computer-controlled champions. In the main game mode, "Summoner's Rift," the goal is to destroy the opposing team's Nexus, a structure that lies at the heart of their base and is protected by defensive structures. 

The other game is "Rocket League," a vehicular soccer video game. The game is described as "soccer, but with rocket-powered cars." Each team uses rocket-powered vehicles to hit a ball into their opponent's goal and score points over the course of a match. 

mobile gamer playing esports

“I have been playing video games for as long as I can remember,” said sophomore Ethan Hallinan. “Even before I could play them, I would watch my parents play them and it inspired me to begin playing."

Hallinan explained that esports is a general term, but it offers many genres of games that cater to all people's interests.

“The appeal for me is that I love playing video games with other people and video games are my favorite hobby," he said.

Thomson was raised in Weed, graduated from Mount Shasta High School and went on to Cal Poly San Lois Obispo. He has played video games for a number of years. He hopes eSports will catch on throughout Siskiyou County and more schools will decide to add eSports teams.

“I’m hoping people will call me and say, 'hey, you did this in Yreka. What do we need to do to bring it here?'"

Thomspon expressed gratitude to Miner Power for helping the team purchase jerseys to wear during games and chairs designed for playing video games. 

For more information on the YHS team go to https://www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donordrive.team&teamID=52447.  YHS games are being broadcasted live on Twitch at https://www.twitch.tv/yrekahsesports