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Esports expands in county and state

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CONCENTRATION: Clinton Prairie sophomore Braden Seasac takes a relaxed approach while concentrating on Forza racing last week.
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TEAMWORK: Clinton Central esports team members, front to back, Tanner Martin and Josh Russell work together playing Super Smash Brothers Ultimate on Wednesday while teammate Zach Warthan looks on.
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ROSSVILLE: Rossville esports director Brad Underwood watches as his team participates in the Indiana High School Esports Network, a new state league with teams from across the state.
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IN THE MOMENT: While esports may seem like a solitary endeveavor, esports directors note that teamwork and problem solving are among the benefits to the programs.

By ANDREW KRULL - akrull@ftimes.com

Rossville was at the forefront of developing an esports club at their school last year and now is among the inaugural members of a state league that also includes Clinton Central and Clinton Prarie.

“This year is the first year that we’ve created an Indiana league,” Rossville’s esports director Ben Underwood said. “It’s the Indiana High School Esports Network. There’s about 16 schools involved in Season Zero from across the state, ranging from small schools like Rossville up to Carmel-sized and stuff like that playing six games competitively.”

This first season is sort of a test run before the league fully takes off in the spring.

“It’s a six-week season just to kind of test the games out and kind of figure out what works and what doesn’t and then we’ll have a Season One starting next semester,” Underwood said. “We play Overwatch, Hearthstone, League of Legends, Rocket League, Super Smash Brothers and Forza racing.

“There’s two seasons in a year. You’re fall and your spring seasons and then this year we started with Season Zero.”

The league is expanding rapidly with Clinton Central esports director Drew Godby noting earlier this week a much larger number of schools than the 16 mentioned by Underwood last month.

“I think it’s actually grown to 30 or 40 schools now, so it’s growing actually every week,” he noted.

“We’ve already been talking to a ton of schools and we’ll probably double if not triple by season one,” Underwood said.

Central actually formed its club last year after Underwood reached out to the fellow county school. Clinton Prairie just formed this year with Underwood involved with that as well.

“I contacted Prairie originally and I knew the principal over at Clinton Central who’s the superintendent now and said, ‘If you guys are interested in this, please let me know,’” Underwood noted.

“Ben approached us and said, ‘hey, there’s esports and would you be interested’ and we have another club here that does board games and card games and we thought this can be another extension of that club,” Godby said.

After having eight members involved, Central has 15 playing this year. The interest at Clinton Prairie was even greater at Clinton Prairie where esports coordinator Nick Seager noted 74 kids coming out for the first meeting with about 35 out for the first season. He said some had conflicts or weren’t interested in this season’s games expecting other involvement in the future. Seager noted that as a gaming enthusiast himself he jumped at the chance to head up a club at the school.

The initial season is nearing its end with the league expected to run at full-steam next semester.

“We’re still going to do a playoffs and a state championship, but this season is definitely like our test and we’ll make changes after we see what works and what doesn’t,” Underwood said. “The first few weeks we had some connection issues because everyone is kind of at a different point.

“We’re trying to get it so that everybody has a facility at their school but not everybody has facilities. We have some schools that are still playing from home. They are still run by a director like myself that’s a teacher or an adult who communicates with other directors and help runs things.”

Underwood credited Tipton’s John Roberts and Portage’s Nate Thompson for bringing the state league together as founders. Underwood himself helped league-members Carmel and Lafayette Jeff set up their teams.

The cost and the opportunity for students are benefits.

“It’s free,” Underwood noted. “There’s some national leagues and they charge a ton of money for the kids to play. We are trying to do this for the kids. It’s all about the kids competing and learning those teamwork skills.

“This gives certain kids that don’t have an after school activity something to participate in at school,” he added.

Like Rossville originally did, Central and Prairie had similar hoops to jump through to form a team which Underwood helped them through. Some of those were getting approval from the school board, estimated costs and making sure they had proper equipment.

Godby noted that Central’s small student population does create conflicts but he works with students in those cases.

“We do have some conflicts with schedules,” he said. “In the beginning, we had some members on the football team. We have members in the drama club where they have a play next week. We’re pretty flexible with schedules as long as they tell me we’re not going to be available then we work with them.”

Team members must also maintain a 2.3 GPA to participate.

Godby, who teaches social studies, history and economics at Central, found directing the club to be natural for him.

“I’ve been playing video games for most of my life,” he said. “Bringing that passion to it, the kids love video games and it felt like a natural fit.”

Rossville has hosted Tipton for a match this season while Central did so with Western. The bigger events will likely be on-site eventually.

“We do some traveling but most of it is just over the internet,” Underwood noted. “Their whole team came here and we played with the different teams. We’ll do the playoffs probably in person, so we’ll do them at a facility. I don’t know where now. We’re working on it.

“Our League of Legends team gets commentated on just like a football game,” he added. “We’ve got two teachers who come in and they like shout-cast the whole match just like it’s a sporting event. It’s on Twitch, the platform you can watch it on.”