Northwest eSports team hosts first gaming tournament Saturday

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Video games are coming out of the basement and into the gymnasium.

The eSports team at Northwest High School hosted its first tournament Saturday, entertaining visitors from seven schools. The games were played in three parts of the school, including the gym.

The 124 players competed in three games — Overwatch, Rocket League and Starcraft 2.

Ryan Waters, the David City head coach, describes Rocket League as “rocket-powered cars playing soccer.”

Most of the time, the players play quietly. But a video game tournament can have action.

At one point Saturday morning, Northwest eSports coach Matt Hinkel jumped to his feet, shouting. A late goal in a Rocket League contest had sent the match into sudden-death overtime.

If you’re good at video games, there’s even money in it.

Waters said four of his David City players have been offered college scholarships — three of them full rides.

eSports are becoming more mainstream, says Northwest senior Hudson Pfenning. There are many people like himself, who don’t do as well in football or basketball as other people. eSports gives those people an activity they can enjoy, he said. Playing in a tournament allows them to make connections with students from other schools.

Northwest’s eSports team has 36 players this semester, Hinkel says. Last year, the school had 24 players. Northwest plans to host another tournament in the spring.

Northwest sophomore Tyler Zeman likes talking to players from other schools. It’s fun seeing “what they like to do in their daily lives, what kind of games they like to play,” he said.

It’s also enjoyable to have competition in person “instead of online, and having it against people you can see.”

Zeman is only “sort of good at Rocket League.” He’s better at a game called Smash Bros.

Hinkel said it’s “exciting to see kids come together to play, to see that it’s more than just kids playing in their basement.”

Rocket League pits teams of three against each other.

Players root for their teammates, Hinkel said.

Like other activities, teammates have to have good chemistry and communicate well.

To be a good gamer, you have to have good hand-to-eye coordination, Hinkel said.

Sophomore Hailey Wilson has tried Overwatch, “but I’m not really good at it.”

She is probably best at Rocket League. Why does she like it?

“I guess the mechanics of it are pretty fun just to mess around with, and there’s always something new to learn, something to work on, and something you could always get better at.”

Wilson is one of a number of girls on the Northwest team.

“Just like anything in the world, a girl can do anything a guy can do,” she said.

Wilson likes being part of the Northwest squad.

“It’s a great team. I’m very proud to be a part of it, and it’s just a real good community altogether,” she said.

“I think it’s good that there’s interest from both genders,” Pfenning said.

When he’s playing a game, he never thinks about the gender of the people with whom he’s playing. “You just all kind of become a team.”

Hinkel, a digital media instructor, gives Pfenning credit for getting eSports started at Northwest.

Pfenning, now 17, originally came up with the idea during his sophomore year. “Nothing was really done about it until Mr. Hinkel came to the school during my junior year.”

Pfenning and Hinkel worked on the idea for two or three months, talking about what would be needed to build the program.

Junior Ethan Bryant is a busy young man. He is on both the Northwest football team and the eSports team.

While football is very physical, video games have their own challenges.

In eSports, “You’ve got to stay focused. Don’t be in a panic. If you’re in a panic, you’re not going to do well,” he said.

Other gamers are athletic, Bryant said. His friend used to run cross country and now he’s on the track team, as is Bryant. Other people in eSports are in band.

“Gamers are not nerds,” he said.

“This could be for anyone,” Bryant said. For instance, “You could be the star football player and play video games.”

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