Westmoreland, N.Y. - Westmoreland High School has joined the Esports craze that is sweeping the nation, by creating a competitive video gaming team this school year.
Beginning as a club about two years ago, the Westmo Gaming team became a nationally-recognized team this school year, competing in the High-School Esports League (HESL), an officially-sanctioned online league created in 2012 offering students a way to compete against other competitors from schools across the United States.
"It's been amazing," said team advisor/coach, Gianni Notaro, a social studies teacher at Westmoreland High School. "To be able to provide an outlet for kids to be able to compete against kids from across the country and show them the way that video games can actually bring people together is really entertaining to see, so it's been really nice."
There are 20 students currently on the squad, in grades 9-12, competing in titles such as Super Smash Brothers Ultimate, Fortnite, Rainbow Six Siege and Rocket League on a variety of consoles. Different nights of the week are dedicated to different games, with the option of reporting the scores from home or playing at the facilities in school.
In the HESL, there is a national ranking system, playoff qualification and scholarships offered to competitors looking to continue their career at the next level at one of the ever-growing list of colleges and universities offering Esports teams around the country. Those schools compete as part of the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE).
"That's one of the things that caught my attention, the scholarship opportunities," said senior competitor, Austen Bowers. "Being a senior going into college, it's a lot of money, scholarships are very helpful."
For students that may not be interested in competing in some of the more traditional sports, Esports allows them the opportunity to be part of a team representing their school.
"It gives [competitors] an opportunity to be a part of a team, a part of a group and feel like they fit in and belong with a group of people," said sophomore competitor, Patrick Amarasinghe.
"I think it's awesome that we get to connect with other people across the country," said sophomore competitor, JoyAnne Alexander. "I think it's great that we get to represent the school and especially because we have a lot of good players, so it puts our school in a good light."
With more collegiate teams and professional leagues sprouting up throughout the country and around the world, Eports is becoming increasingly more competitive. With similar paths to the "big leagues" as other traditional sports, competitors are making a case that Esports should be viewed as part of the athletics community.
"Even though this isn't really physical, still having to memorize all these strategies and competing in general against other teams, I'd say is considered a sport," said sophomore competitor, Jayden Federoff. "You have to have good reaction time, you have to be able to memorize combos, know good match-ups with characters and just know what to do in certain situations kind of like soccer, football or baseball."
"An incredible level of critical thinking goes into some of these different games," added Notaro. "It might not be actual physical sorts of fitness, but the mind games that go into video games are definitely at that professional level."
Despite the competition, there is a lot of teamwork involved in Esports with teammates assisting each other in strategy and techniques. It's the ability to do something of common interest together in a group that makes the experience that much more entertaining.
"[The best part is] spending time with friends and being able to play video games with friends," said sophomore competitor, Quinn Haggerty. "I can always play video games by myself if I wanted to, but it adds more fun to it."
Notaro said that he feels confident schools will soon begin to officially recognize Esports as a varsity level athletics program, requiring the same attention and academic requirements as any other traditional sport.
Holland Patent and Whitesboro are other local high schools that have teams currently competing in the HESL.
Below is the full roster of student-competitors on the Westmoreland Esports team, along with the titles they compete in:
Jayden Fedoroff - Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Noah Grant - Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Nic Sovare - Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
JoyeAnne Alexander - Super Smash Bros. WiiU
Austen Bowers - Super Smash Bros. WiiU
Quinn Haggerty - Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Patrick Amarasinghe - Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Mateus Garcia - Fortnite
Kayley Smith - Fortnite
Donato Valenzano - Fortnite
Jarrett Baum - Fortnite
Dylan Kimball - Fortnite
Brady Morris - Rocket League
Tyler Crumb - Rocket League
Sean Firsching - Rocket League
Joseph Estrada - Rocket League, Rainbow Six Siege
Jeremiah Lockwood - Rocket League, Rainbow Six Siege
Stanley Kukowski - Fortnite, Rainbow Six Siege
Jacob Peck - Fortnite, Rainbow Six Siege
Cadyn Patterson - Rocket League, Rainbow Six Siege, Fortnite