Casa Grande builds bang-up Esports program

As one Casa Grande Esports player put it, “It is definitely a sport.”|

Maybe it’s spelled eSports, or e-sports, or Esports. For the purposes of this article, we’ll go with the latter.

In any case, the “e” stands for “electronic.” There is no actual running, jumping, throwing or physical contact involved. And the only real danger of injury is from carpal tunnel syndrome.

But members of the Casa Grande Esports team are as competitive and excited as any football or basketball player on game day.

“We have to have the same dedication and team commitment as players in other sports,” explained Remy Desjarlais. “It is definitely a sport.”

“The kids compete in tournaments, practice, scrimmage and review their performance just like in other sports,” notes Esports team coach Nathan Libecap, a teacher and librarian at Casa.

Libecap acknowledges that the competition is individual, with players going head-to-head virtually, but points out that many more traditional sports are built to the same concept. “In track, for instance, everyone uses their own skill in their own event and then all the points are added up for a team score.”

Similarly, “In Esports everyone wants to do their best so that they don’t let their team down. That is where the commitment and follow through comes in.”

The attitude toward Esports is changing, said team member Derek Zhou. “It is starting to become what some people consider a real sport, especially since the pandemic.”

It is a sport,” said Lynn Gen. “It is just defined differently than other sports. It is more mental than physical, but it is very competitive.”

Colleges across the U.S. agree, and some, like UC Irvine, already have extensive Esports programs with real-money scholarships of up to $6,000.

Team captain Gen started a club for the games at Kenilworth Junior High before moving on to Case Grande High School, and bringing Esports with her.

There are no fans, no cheerleaders, no public address announcers, but the excitement is as real as if the team was playing in the Egg Bowl. “It is just as exciting as the other sports,” the coach said. “We have had some close wins and it feels the same as winning a baseball game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.”

The team members do recognize that their sport is different. They agreed, “We are not athletes,” although some are athletes in other sports.

“We could call ourselves higher level players” said Preston Spencer.

Like a football team playing on a grass turf, the Casa Grande team is hampered by slower internet than many of its competitors.

“We are trying to convince the school district to help us upgrade. It really makes a difference,” said Libecap. However, the coach is quick to add that the school district has been very supportive in helping establish the new sport.

Another goal for next season is uniforms, or at least tops to help identify what has molded into a real team.

One of the big benefits is the travel: there is none. Every game is a home game played in a room located in the school library.

With no need to travel, competitors can span the state. Casa Grande plays a 10-week season in a 128-team league that has competing schools from all over the state, with the top third making the league playoffs – a Gaucho goal for next season.

Matches feature five varsity players going one-on-one against an unseen opponent, using controllers as weapons and each player using a different “character” as their on-screen persona.

Casa has 10 students on its varsity, with five players making up the playing team for matches.

Libecap said a lot of students have shown interest, and there is also the possibility of forming a competitive team at Kenilworth.

“They are a real eclectic group,” the coach said of his team. “We’ve got a soccer player, a lacrosse player, a band member. They have a lot of different interests.”

The games played by Esports are varied across the state and across the country with the most popular, according to Wikipedia, being the “Fighter Games,” such as the Street Fighter series, Mortal Kombat series, Marvel vs. Capcom series, Tekken series, Killer Instinct series and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

The most popular choice for Casa Grande competitors is Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Another popular choice is Rocket League, which the coach describes as “playing soccer with a car.”

Gen acknowledged that the games are violent with the goal to knock off (kill) the opponent, but points out, “In football the violence is real. In Esports it is on the screen.”

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