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eSports take off at Mineral Springs

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MSHS ESPORTS. (Front from left) Aiden Dillard, Ben Ernest, Wesley Kuykendall, D.K. Piggee, Coach Rob Plant; (middle) Jace Amerson, Tyler Jacoby, Tristyn Plant, Rudy Meija, Nathan Price, Trelance Finley, Jadin Williams; (back) Rahmaij Ware and Dontre Walton. Not pictured: Tyler Pauley, Javeon Fricks, Aydent Stewart and Tray Harris.

By John Balch

News-Leader staff

“There are a lot of kids who aren’t into traditional sports,” said Rob Plant, EAST facilitator at Mineral Springs High School. “For those kids, eSports give them a chance to compete.”

Plant is heading up the first year of eSports at MSHS and the response has been huge among students with more and more students wishing they had signed up for the program. 

Instead of hitting the gridiron or hardwood court, the students head to the EAST Initiative Room, which, when the lights go out, resembles an arcade.

The idea to bring eSports to MS began last year with a discussion between Plant and Superintendent Billy Lee. Plant said Lee was open to the idea but wanted to make sure the students enjoyed the program. Lee and Wendy Reed, the district’s federal program coordinator, made sure the program was more than enjoyable with “everything a gamer wants from LED lights to massage gaming chairs to 65-inch TV screens to the newest Omen gaming computers with curved screens.”

Esports is recognized by the Arkansas Activities Association, who has partnered with PlayVS to bring eSports to high school throughout the state. This spring the AAA will add Maaden.

The AAA said eSports, or competitive gaming, is the “fastest-growing high school sport in the country, and, much like traditional sports, requires teamwork, critical thinking and communications to achieve success.”

The AAA recognizes state (varisty) and regional (junior varsity) teams. Plant said that schools, no matter the size, can have only one varsity team but can have as many JV teams as they can field, which serve as a farm league for future spots on the varsity team.

The MS team will officially compete in Rocket League, which is “soccer played with cars,” and Madden football in association with the AAA program but the team also competes in national tournaments playing Fortnite, Brawhalla, Overwatch and Call of Duty. These tournaments are generally held on weekends and the school has three students who are scheduled to compete in a North American Brawhalla tournament in March and “they are giving up their weekend to do it,” Plant added.

The AAA will added FIFA soccer to its competitive gaming this spring.

The MS team just won its third national title and have achieved titles in silver, gold and platinum levels and also finished first in a recent Fortnite tournament.

“Esports attracts all types of students but I certainly see a lot of non-traditional sports kids who want to compete,” Plant said. “Of course, this plays right into the mission of EAST Initiative; where many students who are shy or not the best students can find themselves because they have the freedom to self-determine their own path and be the young adult they envision for themselves, just like their avatars and screen names when they are gaming.”

Plant estimated that he and his students spend up to 20 after-school hours a week practicing and competing. “We get very serious about this.”

MS has already earned a top-10 state ranking and the students were rewarded with a special hoodies to commemorate the milestone.

The AAA’s regular season starts March 1 so the team will soon be turning the majority of its attention to Rocket League. “Once we get into that we will focus on that competition, but right now we can do a little bit of everything.”

Reed, who approves the funds for the eSports program, said she was proud of the program. “Mr. Plant has taken it and just ran with it,” she said.

The current MSHS eSports team roster includes:

Tyler Pauley, Aiden Dillard, Ben Ernest, Wesley Kuykendall, D.K. Piggee, Jace Amerson, Tyler Jacoby, Tristyn Plant, Rudy Meija, Nathan Price, Trelance Finley, Jadin Williams, Rahmaij Ware, Dontre Walton, Javeon Fricks, Aiden Stewart and Tray Harris.