Pampa eSports team finishes second at Region 16 competition

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For a large part of their history, video games have carried the stigma of being “childish” or a “detriment” to the development of youth.

But as the internet continues to allow competitive gaming to stretch outside the confines of a gamer’s home, eSports has grown in popularity.

Now, Pampa High School offers eSports as an extra-curricular activity and allows students to compete in League of Legends, Overwatch, Rocket League and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

“The eSports program
(in Pampa) started last year with Elias Herrara,” eSports head coach Vanessa Ontiveros said. “He started it with just League of Legends but it slowly grew to include Rocket League and Overwatch.

“I’m not sure what actually led to starting it, but I know the main goal for Pampa ISD with eSports is to make sure there is success for all. So, for students that identify more with technology and video games, they wanted to give them an outlet where they can succeed and they are welcomed.”

The District had considered adding the popular NFL video game franchise, Madden NFL, to the program, but due to the game being based on consoles (PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, XBox One, XBox Series X/S), it wasn’t feasible at this time.

“We game primarily on PCs,” Ontiveros said. “Last year we used our regular Dell Computers, but the League (of Legends) team did so well last year we made a deal with the school.

“So they definitely earned the computers they have now. Now we have 12 Alienware computers and a (Nintendo) Switch.”

Players do bring their own controllers to hook up to the PC.

There are some e-sport games that are cross-platform, meaning players can compete against each other regardless of the console or PC (i.e. a person playing Rocket League on PlayStation 5 can play a person playing Rocket League on Nintendo Switch or PC).

“Consoles don’t work with IT-security wise,” Ontiveros said. “They prefer to do PCs and it’s easier to grow the same kind of equipment (through updates/upgrades) than a variety of different (platforms).”

League of Legends is a multi-player online battle arena game where two teams of five players battle in player vs. player combat with each team defending their half of the map. An interesting tidbit about League of Legends, during the 2020 shut-down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, League of Legends was among the few sports available through DraftKings, the daily fantasy sports company. Senior Dax Scott is the PHS team captain.

“I’ve played League of Legends for about seven years,” Scott said. “My dad played it all of the time, so he introduced it to me and I started playing with him and some of his buddies.

Scott enjoyed other games such as Legend of Zelda, Mario Bros., (first-person shooter) Halo, (first-person shooter) Call of Duty and role-playing game Skyrim. When the eSports program was announced, Scott jumped at the opportunity.

“I was super blown away,” Scott said. “I was really excited. I never thought in a million years that Pampa, Texas would have an eSports team.”

Scott is Dell-certified and is a part of the student help desk. He said he has found the field he wanted to go in after high school thanks to the eSports program.

Overwatch is a team-based multi-player first-person shooter and is described as a “hero shooter.” It assigns two teams of six players with characters possessing unique abilities. Junior Madison Sloan is the PHS team captain.

“I think it’s great for us (to have an eSports team),” Sloan said. “We get to practice and learn to communicate as a team. We practice completing objectives and tasks as a team. It’s really nice having a lot of people who are similar to you and share the same hobbies and interests.”

Sloan has played video games most of her life, starting with the “sandbox (open creative)” video game Minecraft, before becoming heavily invested in Overwatch when it released in 2016. Sloan said she hopes her eSports participation turns into a career in computers down the road.

Rocket League is basically vehicular soccer where players can play 1v1, 2v2, 3v3 or other various match-ups.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a crossover fighting game featuring characters from a variety of video games (primarily Nintendo properties).

Integrating eSports into the schools not only makes competitive video games more mainstream, but it also allows for competitors to learn some of the same skills that physically competitive sports learn.

“It teaches them also how to use video games in a healthy way,” Ontiveros said. “Lots of times when you see gamers, they are binge-gaming 12 hours a day. Here they are learning they can knock that down a bit but also learn leadership, communicate and have a place where they can feel safe talking to people about things they are also interested in.”

Since eSports has not been recognized as a sport by the University Interscholastic League, teams are reliant on a sponsor or coach to hold a tournament.

Region 16 held one over last weekend, where the PHS League of Legends team won second place.

“It was a super-cool feeling,” Scott said. “It felt like we actually accomplished something. All of those years of playing League of Legends actually led up to me winning something. That was really cool. Cause I just played it for fun, but finally getting to compete and win something.”

Region 16 had seven teams competing across all sizes of high schools.

“Region 16 has been very supportive for eSports,” Ontiveros said. “Our team went and competed and finished second place. But Region 16 also had keynote speakers, showed servers and networking on the back-end and had scholarship opportunities. I think it was more how eSports can intertwine with technology to have a career in technology.”

Another platform PHS uses is PlayVS, a platform for high schools to make eSports a varsity sport.

“PlayVS, starting the fourth week of school, had a game where they could compete against another school each day of the week,” Ontiveros said. “Tuesday is League of Legends, Wednesday is for Overwatch and then Thursday Rocket League competes. PlayVS is only going to be schools.”

In their regular season on PlayVS, which breaks down teams to the east or west coast of the United States, Pampa finished 13th out of 66 on League of Legends and 17th of 58 on Overwatch.

“That includes all different sizes whether public, private, charter, etc.,” Ontiveros said.

There are 30 actively-competing students in the eSports program at PHS, but there are about 15 more students that spend time around the program.

“It’s not just about the competition,” Ontiveros said. “The main goal is to give them a safe space. We have some that just come and hangout while we have practices. Some days we have free play, where we open up the PCs for whoever wants to play, as well. We have some that feel like they are too busy to compete, but they still want to be here.”

While eSports is completely extra-curricular, students in the program tend to be a part of the information technology, trobotics, computer maintenance and principles of info-tech courses with Ontiveros and fellow instructor Chris Smith.

“Most of the students we have in eSports are heavily involved in the IT side of CTE (Career Technology Education),” Ontiveros said. “We have eight Dell-certified technicians on our eSports team. They take a course, get certified and after that they work on the elementary children Chromebooks.”

For more information on the Pampa eSports program, call Pampa High School at 806-669-4800.

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