Not Your Average Sports Team

Esports Coach Cory Canan (right) and sophomore Carson Bierlein strategize Bierlein’s next match on League of Legends on Monday night.
Assistant Editor

The usual silence of the New Knoxville School’s library was replaced with the clicking of mouses and rapid keystrokes as the school’s 12 new gaming computers were put to the test during the Esports team’s practice Monday night. While most people may think of sports in the traditional sense — basketball, softball or track — a new type of athlete is emerging and their equipment includes a keyboard and headset.

Esports is defined by as “competitive tournaments of video games,” and as evidenced by the intensity of practice, the roughly 20 teens on New Knoxville’s teams are just as competitive as their traditional athletic counterparts.

“Involvement was one of the big things for me and we have that here,” said Esports Coach Cory Canan. “I’ll use Carson (Bienline) as an example; he's a three-sport athlete and then there are kids that don't do any ‘sports’ or other activities but that are all playing together. It’s a big cross section of the student body.”

While traditional sports are focused on building the athlete physically, Esports is focused more on communication, coordination and teamwork. In just a few short weeks, Canan has noticed big changes in some of his team members as they learn more about the team and themselves.

“It gets the kids out of their little bubble, their little cave that they play in,” he said. “It builds social skills, teamwork, leadership and for some of the kids, it's really helped. Some kids, specifically, it has really helped with social skills and getting them out and just working as a group.

“It's really neat to see that aspect of taking a group of individuals and to see the team grow together has been pretty awesome.”

Approved by the New Knoxville Board of Education during the October meeting, it took some time to get things going because of the specific computer needs of the team. All 12 of the team’s computers were built by the students and are purpose built to run the four games they play.

Needing particular amounts of memory, graphics requirements and storage, each piece was special ordered for the team. Even the chairs and tables the students use are specific to Esports.

“These computers are not used for anything else,” Canan noted.

As they year rolled over to 2020, the Rangers Esports team set its sights on preparing for its first season, which is scheduled to begin in late February and will continue into May. In addition to the practices held several times a week, Canan had arranged scrimmages with other local schools to see what real competition would be like.

“We scrimmaged Coldwater in League of Legends and Overwatch,” Canan said. “We got wrecked in League of Legends — their team is impressive and their kids are very good — but their Overwatch team has a lot of new players and our varsity team beat them pretty handedly.”

Once competitions start for real, tournaments will be held over three consecutive days where different teams — based on the game — will compete with teams from the opposing school. While this format would be a challenge for a traditional sport that requires travel, it’s not an issue for Esports.

Since the games are played online, teams do not have to travel to their opponents and simply need an online connection to join the matches. There will still be “home” and “away” teams but the only difference is that the home team is responsible for setting up the online game room.

Then it is up to the skill, communication and teamwork to take over; just as the sounds of gaming can take over a library.