The PA Distance Esports Team has kicked off its inaugural year with a group of 13 students from a variety of backgrounds. Whether they have casual gaming experience, have competed in the past, or are brand new to competitive gaming, the PA Distance Esports Team has a place for everyone.
Since forming the team this year, esports staff sponsor Mr. Dayka is adamant that students with no prior gaming experience are still welcome to join and welcomes high school students of all backgrounds and abilities.
For example, current 12th-grader and Esports Team member, Isabella Rios, is new to playing video games competitively. She initially joined to serve as the team’s Secretary but has been learning while joining in on the fun.
“Originally, I signed up to be the Secretary not realizing I would be asked to play in matches, too,” Isabella explained. “I didn’t have experience with esports so I’ve had a learning curve. I’m glad I joined because I am able to learn new things.”
Once or twice after school each week, the team typically meets virtually for an hour to discuss gaming strategy, address technical issues players have, upcoming matches, and to support those who are new to competitive gaming. Likewise, matches (video example here) are usually held once a week in the evenings.
In order to join the high school team, students in grades 9-12 must have a GPA of at least 2.5 and have a high-speed internet connection in their homes. PA Distance also provides specific laptops (in addition to their supplied Chromebook for regular school work), capable of handling internet-based high-speed video gameplay, to each of the team members if necessary.
“Not having access to a gaming computer shouldn’t be a hindering factor,” Mr. Dayka said. “If a student is interested in joining the team, we will provide everything they need to do so.”
But, the players don’t have to use a laptop computer if they have other gaming devices of their own.
“I use my Nintendo Switch to practice and complete,” Isabella explained. “I know a lot of other players on the team use other platforms, too, if they have it.”
The PA Distance Esports Team follows the North American Scholastic Esports Federation’s (NASEF) lead when choosing what video games in which they will focus and compete. Each year, NASEF chooses the games that they will be using to host competitions. This year, esports teams across the country are competing in Rocket League which is free to play and available on a variety of platforms.
PA Distance 11th-grader, Casey Allshouse, serves as the Esports Team President.
“The game we compete in is called Rocket League. It is basically soccer but with rocket-propelled cars,” Casey explained.
“My role as President is a face to the team,” Casey added. “I make sure team members are able to play, play on time, make sure everyone is using their technology correctly, and help if they need it. And, overall, I try to make the team fun.”
In Rocket League, players are able to design their own cars to compete with. From the paint color to the wheel rims, players have a variety of options to help differentiate themselves from other competitors and show off their creativity.
“There are three separate smaller teams within the PA Distance Esports Team,” Isabella explained. “I’m on Team 1, which is a mixture of players with and without experience. My teammates are really supportive of me and others who don't have experience. They give me a lot of pointers.”
12th-grader, Giovanni Waters, serves as the team’s Membership Chair.
“I give information to students interested in joining the team,” Giovanni said. “When you get all the personalities together it makes it a fun environment. Students can make new friends and get together with new people.”
Mr. Dayka sees an opportunity for students to focus on Career Education and Work skills with the esports team, too. PA Distance students have shown an increasing interest in pursuing a career in professional streaming, video game development, and computer science.
“There are also a variety of colleges and universities who offer scholarships for esports and competitive gaming,” Mr. Dayka explained.
“Esports has given many students, tens of thousands of students, the ability to earn scholarships for colleges that they want to go to and allows students to be able to go to college,” Casey noted.
10th-grader, Riccardo Sepulveda is the Communications Chair and manages the team’s website and email correspondence.
“I’ve competed in gaming tournaments here and there and I thought it would be great to join an actual team,” Riccardo explained. “I like having interaction with other kids. I also like seeing how we are all having fun and getting better at the same time.”
“I connect a Bluetooth PlayStation controller to my laptop and control my Rocket League car that way,” Riccardo noted. “There are a lot of different platforms you can use. From a computer to a smartphone, lots of games work across devices.”
The team’s Vice President, Alex Frain, is new to PA Distance as an 11th-grader but was recommended to the school, and to join the Esports Team, by a longtime student and close friend from home, Esports President, Casey. Alex’s role is to welcome new members to the team and also take over the role as President if Casey is absent.
“Even though I am new to PA Distance, esports has helped me get to know a lot of people,” Alex said.
As President, Casey strongly believes esports is more than playing video games.
“I believe that esports is a community that can bring anyone together, bring everyone, despite their differences, despite what they believe and don't believe, despite their religion, race, everything,” Casey said. “It can bring everyone together and if someone is having a bad day, they [other players] are there to help out each other. That’s why I love the esports community.”
11th-grader, Rickelle Hall is also a member of the Esports Team and has come to enjoy playing even though she’s new to the virtual world of competition.
“I’m not the best at gaming yet but it’s fun!” Rickelle said. “You can bond with people out of school hours, you're never alone, and always have someone to have fun with.”
“You get to make a whole new set of friends,” Isabella added. “I’m sad I’m graduating this year because I won’t be able to stay on the team.”
Follow along on the PA Distance social media channels and, right here, on the school blog for updates on the Esports Team!