Marin’s first foray into the exploding field of competitive interscholastic video game team sports was a winner, officials said.
Novato High School’s new squad for eSports — as the video game competitions are called — won its first official competition Thursday against a squad from Magnolia High School in Anaheim. Novato won three of five matches, almost shutting out Magnolia with a total score of 38-2, coach Danny Kambur said.
“A good start for our program,” Kambur said. “The best of five wins.”
Each match, which used the popular video game Rocket League, was played remotely with the Magnolia High team from NHS’s computer lab. The game is similar to soccer — except that in the video game, a customized sports car pushes the soccer ball around the field.
“We’re the first school in the Marin County league to offer this,” Novato High School athletic director Michele Sanner said. She said eSports was rapidly gaining momentum, now that it has official status with the California Interscholastic Federation.
“They’re piloting it as a sanctioned sport,” Sanner added. “Just like football or basketball.”
Sanner added that eSports was “huge in the 14-24 age group — it’s five times bigger than Hollywood movies in terms of game sales.” The benefits to student eSports athletics are also large, she said.
“Some students who may not have found a niche in competitive sports now have an opportunity to compete,” she said.
“We’re just getting kids more engaged with school and with each other,” she added. “As many chances as we can give to kids to fit in somewhere, it benefits everyone.”
Dane Lancaster, senior director of information technology for the Marin County Office of Education, said eSports are already popular in Southern California, with more than 500 schools competing.
“It’s got a great foothold in Southern California,” he said. “Once people find out about it, they are interested — some people were not aware that it was an organized sport.”
Lancaster was part of a Jan. 16 organizing meeting for the Marin effort. The meeting featured guest speaker Kevin Brown, program specialist in charge of the eSports program at the Orange County Department of Education, Lancaster said. Brown was there to advise on setting up a pilot eSports program in Marin.
Sanner said eSports not only works to engage students who might not be athletic in the traditional sense, but also sharpens skills they can use for future jobs in technology.
“Skills they pick up here can tie into what their workplaces might look like for them in the future,” she said.
Kambur agreed, adding that the student competitors, many of whom are used to playing video games by themselves, must learn skills in communicating with teammates — skills that will also help them in the workplace.
“It takes getting used to having one another in each other’s space,” he said.
Sanner said about 40 kids showed up for the Novato eSports informational meeting — much more than expected.
After the meeting, Kambur said he had a good turnout for team tryouts. Eleven team members were selected.
“These guys are super-hyped; they’re so excited,” Kambur said. “Some had tears in their eyes.”
The top attribute he was looking for to be on the team was ability to communicate, he added.
“Communication is important in any sport,” added Kambur, who is also Novato’s junior varsity head football coach and a teacher. “But in this, it’s more important.”
In eSports, he added, “the communication needs to be quick, fast-paced, and it needs to be effective to set up plays and warn each other (about moves by competitors). It’s like the actual soccer game to a certain degree.”
Marin schools will host two free computer academies later this month through Novato-based XR Marin. Both are open to ages 13 and up.
An augmented reality academy will run 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Feb. 24 through April 24 on Mondays and Wednesdays. A virtual reality academy will run 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Feb. 25 through April 24 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Applications and more details are at xrmarin.net/classes.
Any Marin business or group interested in becoming a sponsor for the Novato eSports team can contact Sanner at firstname.lastname@example.org.