Disrupting the stigma of Esports

  • Mahar Disrupters players (from front to back) Isaiah Hill, Justin St. Pierre, Kris Stroup and Tyler Osberg (Kyle Lloyd is also behind Osberg) compete in a recent match. Contributed photo

  • Mahar Disrupters players (from left to right) Kyle Lloyd, Tyler Osberg, Kris Stroup, Justin St. Pierre and Isaiah Hill compete during a recent match. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Published: 12/10/2018 9:36:26 PM

When most people picture athletes, the last thing that comes to mind is someone sitting in front of a computer playing video games. For a growing number of people, however, athletes can be considered video game players as well.

The world of Esports — short for electronic sports — is growing at a rapid pace. You are now seeing video game championships on ESPN and NBC Sports, and many kids could tell you who their favorite Esports teams are. 

When I was a kid, I was playing Super Mario Brothers, Mortal Combat and Donkey Kong Country on Nintendo and Super NES. Today’s kids are competing with other players from around the world in a variety of games, and out of that are growing leagues where the best players compete against one another. 

It was only a matter of time before it trickled down to the high school level.

Mahar Regional School in Orange recently became the first school in Franklin County with a varsity Esports team called the Mahar Disrupters. And while some may struggle to picture video game players as athletes, many of the positive aspects that sports offer kids are also impacting Esports athletes.

For those who don’t know, Esports are a form of competitive gaming. While the experiences vary, the most common form is two teams of players battling in a variety of settings such as a first-person shooter (think Call of Duty) or multiplayer online battle arena (such as League of Legends). Teams work toward a common goal, whether it be destroying a base, or a game of capture the flag.

League of Legends is one of the most popular games in the world. It is free to play, but includes micro-transactions in game, which give players the option of buying things for real money, although this is not required in order to play. 

Mahar’s Esports club was started by student Justin St. Pierre, who approached physical education/health teacher Kyle Magoffin. On the first day of school this fall, Magoffin, now the club’s advisor, spoke to St. Pierre about the shooting that took place in Jacksonville, Fla. at a Madden Tournament. St. Pierre explained that the shooter had a mental disease and that it was not a reflection of gamers. Magoffin’s response.

“I said to him, ‘Why don’t you change that perception,’” Magoffin recalled.

That evening around 5:30, Magoffin received an email from St. Pierre asking him if he was serious. Magoffin said he was, and St. Pierre responded asking if they could start a club. 

When St. Pierre started the club, he was admittedly skating by in school. He was a D or F student. This past semester, St. Pierre’s lowest grade was a 75 and he made the Honor Roll.

“He’s now giving presentations to the school as to why Esports is so important,” Magoffin said.

According to Magoffin, Mahar co-principal Eric Dion was on board immediately and even took it one step further.

“He said, ‘Why don’t we make it a team,’” Magoffin said.

The two men learned about a company called PlayVS, which is a high school Esports league that is sanctioned by the National Federation of State High School Associations. That works in conjunction with the Massachusetts Secondary Administrators Association, which is similar to the MIAA, but supports and promotes other types of educational opportunities. 

PlayVS offers leagues in only five states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Kentucky and Georgia — but will continue to expand its reach. The company is going to be at Mahar today to film a promotional video to show the success of the team.

PlayVS paired with Riot, which is the company that makes League of Legends. PlayVS offers the “arena” for the matches to take place, and also allows each of the members of the game access to all 140-plus “Champions” in the game. Without going into too much detail about how the game works, each player chooses one champion to play with, and each champion has different abilities. Each team is comprised of five players, and the two teams each start in an opposite corner of a map. The teams are tasked with destroying the other team’s Nexus Stone, which is housed in a base, which also must be destroyed. What makes League of Legends especially attractive at the high school level is that just like games such as Fortnite, it features “cartoonish” graphics, so unlike Call of Duty, there is no blood or gore.

The current Mahar club has 18 players which range from beginners to experts. The varsity team consists of two seniors (Kyle Lloyd and Tyler Ostberg) and three juniors (Kris Stroup, Isaiah Hill and St. Pierre). Middle school student Eric Aldrich is the first substitute. After St. Pierre started the club, he put out announcements to recruit players. Magoffin said that since the club has started, interest has grown, and he even has athletes from other sports interested in joining, which would be permissible. It’s exactly what Magoffin said was the goal of St. Pierre when it all started.

“Kids feel left out, and maybe don’t have a place, this gives them a place,” Magoffin said. “Watching them play, the talent they have in critical thinking is amazing. These guys are using just as much teamwork skills as anyone on the football team.”

Magoffin, who wasn’t really into video games before helping start the club, said that he had to break the stigma of Esports not being a form of sports, but since beginning the club, he has caught on. He recognizes that Esports don’t get kids active the way other sports do, but it does give them a structured environment to play games they would be playing anyhow. Now, they are part of a community.

“The only thing Esports doesn’t offer them that other sports does is the cardiovascular component,” he said. “Rather than sitting in their room with the door shut, they have adult supervision and are working together with other students.”

The cost to the school has been minimal, as each player pays $64 to be part of the varsity team, something the school has funded this year and is hoping to continue to fund, which means the entire club costs the school roughly $300. Mahar plays other schools in Massachusetts (there are 36 teams in the state including prep schools) as part of a league schedule, and matches take place every Tuesday, with two matches each day. Mahar won both its matches on its opening day and through four weeks sits at 4-4 overall. The top 12 teams at the end of the season (which concludes in Feb.) make the playoffs. A second season runs from Feb. through the end of the school year. 

The team has its own website (mahardisrupters.com) and games can be seen on Twitch. Today’s matches are going to be posted to the team’s website, and St. Pierre is even planning to voice over the game to help explain what is going on.

Magoffin never knew that when he and St. Pierre began a video game club, it would grow to what it has become today. He said when he looks back, he is proud of St. Pierre and each of the players who helped get the team off the ground. Seeing them thrive is the most rewarding thing of all.

“When I stop and think about it, it really gives me goosebumps,” he said.

The same type of goosebumps that used to be reserved for hitting a home run or scoring a touchdown.




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