Lakewood Ranch High School's esports club sees success in its first year.
James Archibald, a senior at Lakewood Ranch High School, started playing video games when he received his first Xbox at 10 years old.
He started playing Rocket League in 2015 when the game came out. Rocket League is a sports-based video game where the gamers play soccer with cars. In 2017, he started playing competitively.
Archibald never imagined he would play Rocket League to represent Lakewood Ranch High School as the captain of one of the school’s esports teams.
“My first game, I was a little nervous because it was for school,” Archibald said. “I’ve done leagues before, but representing the school feels a lot bigger than the leagues I’ve done. I know the support on our actual sports teams are big, so it’s almost like doing that from home.”
Lakewood Ranch High School started an esports club over the summer when teachers and administrators were uncertain whether students would be returning to campus or continuing e-learning due to COVID-19.
Tom Honsa, a social studies teacher and the general manager of the esports teams, wanted to ensure there was something students could be interested in doing from home.
“This upcoming year looked pretty grim from where we were standing,” Honsa said. “This year’s students and especially this year’s seniors weren’t going to have much to look back on.”
After some research and support from the school’s administration, Honsa, along with history teacher Bill Wallin, started the club. Math teacher Mark Marron joined the club as a coach.
“It’s cool that students can play and compete in esports from their homes,” Archibald said. “I know a lot of kids were not playing sports this year due to coronavirus, especially the online[-only] students. It was a different way to play from home.”
Every Thursday, six students formed A and B teams and played against teams from high schools across the country. So far, the school’s A team is undefeated.
Reid Zimmerman, a senior in the club, always played video games as a hobby, but once he saw the club was being formed at Lakewood Ranch, he jumped at the opportunity to join.
“I like playing with friends and having fun,” Zimmerman said. “Before esports, that’s essentially all I did. With the esports coming in, it changed my perspective about it. I’m starting to take it more seriously. Hopefully, we can win tournaments for the school.”
The club has at least eight students, so the teams have substitutes in case members have a conflict. Honsa said they wanted to start small because it’s a learning curve for everyone involved, but now the club has gained traction, and more students have expressed interest.
“It’s an opportunity for kids who might not otherwise be inclined to participate or want to represent the school in more traditional competitions,” Honsa said. “It’s a chance to get involved. It broadens the opportunity for student involvement. Any time you give a kid one more reason to come to school, that’s positive.”
With more students, the club could expand to include more games.
Esports provides a new opportunity for students, especially during a pandemic, because any student can participate whether they’re on campus full time, participating in the hybrid schedule or are full-time e-learning.
The competitions show students the different career paths they can take relating to video games and shows them opportunities to receive scholarships.
Marron said he would like to see the program have its own space, such as a game lab, so students can be in the same room playing. He would also like to see students traveling to other high schools to compete, much like traditional sports.