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Scribner-Snyder to host six-school esports tournament

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Even from over 100 miles away, Northwest High School in Grand Island will still be competing with Scribner-Snyder Community Schools this weekend.

Unlike other sports, esports doesn’t require players to be in the same room, said Matt Hinkel, a digital media teacher and sponsor for the Grand Island esports team.

“It’s basically because I’m busy this weekend, so I’m unable to drive the kids to it,” he said. “So the kids will actually all be playing from their houses on their computers, and then using headsets to talk while they play online.”

Scribner-Snyder, Grand Island and four other schools will compete at Scribner-Snyder for the Nebraska Schools Esports Association’s first esports high school competition on Saturday.

The event will start at 10 a.m. and will run no later than 3 p.m. Televisions in the gym and commons area will broadcast the competition for the public.

Commentators from Midland University will provide context for viewers. Some of the schools involved will livestream the event, which will be shared to the Scribner-Snyder Community Schools Facebook page.

While Scribner-Snyder, David City High School, Gretna High School and Holdrege High School will compete on-site, Grand Island and Aurora High School will play remotely.

Students will compete by playing “Overwatch,” a 2016 first-person shooter computer game that relies on strategy and teamwork to achieve a set goal, such as escorting a payload or capturing a number of points.

The Scribner-Snyder esports team was formed in fall of 2018 and has 13 members. Along with 12 other schools, it is part of the NSEA.

The event was coordinated by Linda Schafer, a K-12 computer technology teacher and sponsor for the Scribner-Snyder team, after she contacted sponsors throughout the state about participating.

Schafer said there are currently seven teams lined up to play this weekend, but there could be even more.

“One of the things we’ve tried to do as a group this year is if we have overflows of players, we put them together to create teams,” she said. “So if we have too many extra kids, if we can get it worked out, there is a possibility of eight teams instead of seven.”

For this weekend’s tournament, Schafer said the Scribner-Snyder team is focusing on a strategy called “diving,” which involves the entire team jumping from a high point to a single area at the same time.

“They feel if they were able to dive in a coordinated manner, they’d have a better chance of winning some of their games, because we’ve had a lot of close games,” she said. “But that’s a maneuver we’re not good at, so that’s one that we’ve been trying to practice so that when we go against the bigger schools, we can do it.”

The teams coming to Scribner-Snyder will bring their own gaming systems, whether it’s a large desktop computer or portable laptop. Schafer said because the players have their own settings preference, having a personal machine for each is necessary.

While the team was in Grand Island for a tournament two weeks ago, Schafer said a server issue caused many of the schools’ desktop computers to be unusable. The only working computers were Scribner-Snyder and Grand Island’s who both use laptops to play, she said.

“Those kids were blown away that we could actually play as well as we can on laptops,” Schafer said. “So for our kids, we know we’d probably be even better if we had big computers, but our laptops work great for us, and they have adjusted their style of play to make it work.”

This is the Grand Island esports team’s second year, which started in October 2018. The team has 33 members, six of which will be playing this weekend, Hinkel said.

When playing remotely, Hinkel said the team does have a slight disadvantage, including a possibility of unreliable internet.

“Sometimes the communication is easier when you’re there, you’re able to strategize more,” he said. But kids play online all the time. They’re able to communicate, they’re able to strategize, they’re able to still do those things via the internet and headsets and everything else.”

Unlike Scribner-Snyder and Grand Island, this year is the first for Gretna’s esports team. Kimberly Ingraham-Beck, computer science teacher and sponsor for Aurora High School’s esports team, said the team has nine students playing “Overwatch,” with others playing other games.

In preparing for the event, Ingraham-Beck said the team has been focusing on the game’s different maps.

“Because we’ve never done a tournament, we don’t know what to expect,” she said. “We’re really excited, so the best preparation we can do is practice as many maps as we can, as many strategies as we can and get as much practice in as we can.”

Ingraham-Beck said the team has brought together all kinds of students: band students, football players and wrestlers. But it’s also attracted students who aren’t involved in any other activity.

“This is really the first time they get to represent the school,” Ingraham-Beck said. “And many of the kids have never really even played outside of their house before the school tournament started, so this gives them another opportunity to not play in their house.”

Hinkel said the game allows for a fun competition between schools throughout the state.

“It’s fun to say, ‘Hey we lost to them,’ or ‘Hey, we beat them,’” he said. “They’re building a community in having a chance to compete against other people, just like you would in basketball, football, volleyball and all those other sports.”

Schafer said by holding such a large tournament that’s open to the public, people can become more aware of how it works.

“People need to understand it’s not just one person sitting in their basement gaming,” she said. “This is a group of people working together and problem-solving.”

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