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A league of their own

As featured in Milton's Standard Journal  

By Jim Diehl

MILTON — They’re in a league of their own, and it’s behind a computer screen and keyboard.

The second annual E-sports league district championship games were played Tuesday at the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit (CSIU) in Milton. This marked the first time students traveled to the CSIU headquarters for the event.

In 2022, there were five teams in the league, and they played virtually. This year, teams competing in the tournament included Berwick, Bloomsburg, Danville, Montgomery, Selinsgrove, Shamokin, Southern Columbia and Warrior Run.

Student teams battled it out in a best-of-three tournament, playing the video game Rocket League. The game is a high-powered hybrid of arcade-style soccer and vehicular mayhem, with easy-to-understand controls and fluid, physics-driven competition. The game is played on Playstation, Nintendo Switch, GeForce Now, Xbox One, Mac operating systems, Linux and Microsoft Windows platforms.

“Not only are students learning to play the game, but they are also looking to build career readiness through the E-sports program,” said Tyler Germer, CSIU’s Digital Media and Communications specialist. “It allows students to explore opportunities in IT, graphic design, shell casting, broadcasting and videography. E-sports is an ever-evolving and developing program.”

STEM Education Consultant Colleen Epler-Ruths said the Pennsylvania Scholastic E-sports League (PSEL) was formed in the Chester County school district. “There are a lot of E-sports leagues out there. Most of them don’t take into consideration a student’s safety with their identities, and many of them do not have an educational value,” said Epler-Ruths.

Two years ago, she said a team was formed in the Danville Area School District. This year, matches were played in January and February, before students traveled to the CSIU headquarters for the finals. Epler-Ruths said gaming has changed since the 1980s, and the games of Pac-man or Donkey Kong. “When we were young it was a single event where it was just you against the game,” she said. “Now it’s a collaborative event where students connect with others to strategize and win a game.

“The PSEL is also looking to unite with the Special Olympics to promote E-sports with special needs students.” Shamokin Coach Ty Crossley said E-sports is “a great way to reach students and give them some school spirit, and get them in a jersey. “It’s a great way for a student who don’t play sports to get involved in a team event,” he said. “The big thing is there’s a lot of team work that goes into playing the game and the collaboration with others is imperative for a win.”

Two teams of students play five games against each other. Each game lasts about 5 minutes. The team that scores the best out of five games takes the win and moves on as the games are single-elimination events. The top two teams will move on to the state championships.

“It’s an easy premise, but once you get your hands on a controller or keyboard it’s actually pretty difficult,” Crossley said. “It has caused a lot of buzz in the school. I’ve had so many kids come up to me asking for more games to be included as right now they only play Rocket League.” Southern Columbia student Jimmy Bender said E-sports is easy to get involved in. “We’re all friends, it’s easy to hop on and get involved,” he said. “Our coach, Dante Anskis, has led us to all our successes,” Southern Columbia student Landon Ferrara added. “All the messages and scheduling goes on an app titled Discord. A lot of it is just playing the game and setting strategies as a team.”

Warrior Run student Noah Burden said he never played a sport like football or baseball. “With E-sports I enjoy the team spirit,” he said. “I’ve played video games most of my life. I like the competition. This is the first competition in person for me. It’s spirited. Every team here wants to win, but there can only be one winner.”