On Thursday, January 10th, the Fair Haven Knights (opens in new tab) esports team made history when we took on the William Annin Vikings in the first round of the Jersey Shore Esports Cup. This was historic because it was the first ever esports match between two middle schools in New Jersey. Maybe even the country.
After 18 months of planning and meeting with stakeholders to get approval, I launched our middle school esports team this September. We have been practicing hard since then to get ready for the Rocket League esports season which usually starts up in early spring. I say usually because it has been hard for us to find other middle schools to play. Esports just started to find its way into high schools. Middle school is probably still a few years away. Right now, you can count on one hand how many middle schools have esports teams, so we are taking on all comers. This means we have been adding colleges and high schools to our esports schedule, but I wanted to get some middle schools to play against, too. That is why I reached out to my friend and educational spirit animal, Steve Isaacs (opens in new tab), to see if his middle school video game club would be interested in putting a Rocket League team together to play us.
As always, Steve was all in. After some discussion, we decided to make this first ever battle of middle schools something special, so we decided to create the Jersey Shore Esports Cup (JSEC). The Jersey Shore Esports Cup is a totally made up event that we came up with as an excuse for us to play against each other multiple times over the next few months. Hopefully, as the #esportsedu (opens in new tab) movement grows, we’ll be able to add more middle school teams to the JSEC. But for now, it is the FH Knights vs. the Vikings in an epic, two-team battle for the prestigious, inaugural Jersey Shore Esports Cup!
This match was a first for Steve and I. We’ve never hosted an esports event before. But last Thursday at 4pm, we invited parents, students, and stakeholders at both our schools to come watch the match. We played in our library at Knollwood middle school and Steve played in his classroom in Basking Ridge. What brought everyone together, even though we were competing from our own schools, was the stream. Streaming is the act of showing live video game play over the internet. Early in my esports journey, I had met Topher Jaims (opens in new tab). Jaims is a college professor from Bellevue university who also plays and casts Rocket League at a competitive level. Casting, which is what commentating a game is known as in the esports world, really made the event something special. Topher, along with his partner, streamed our game and commentated on it live from Nebraska for all of our viewers, both online and in house, to see (you can see the behind the scenes production of the stream here (opens in new tab)). Let me repeat that for those in the back: two middle schools in New Jersey played each other from their own schools as the game was broadcasted live by two commentators top notch commentators from Nebraska. What a time to be alive.
The event couldn’t have gone better. While we had a few technical difficulties, players, coaches, and commentators worked through them (using our cell phones to communicate) to create a memorable, historic experience for all involved. In total we had 2 coaches, 24 players, 60 in house fans supporting our players, and another 100 or so watching the stream live on Twitch.
After the event, my players went out for pizza and I sent our film to the Rutgers University esports team (opens in new tab) who have partnered with us to help us improve our gameplay and grow esports at the middle school level. They broke down the following areas we need to work on:
– Need to learn spacing
=> They kept running into each other, one idea is to have 2 players go for the ball at the same time with a fake.
– They need to learn to setup to each other better
=> Goes hand in hand with spacing. 1 player on the ball, 1 player on the opposite side of the net that gets ready to spike the ball in over the center once it is rebounded, and 1 player on the backside ready to defend or push opponents out of the way to aid in the scoring.
– They need to learn handbraking.
=> The time it takes to drive in a circle compared to the time it takes to handbrake spin is tremendous. It is better to learn to handbrake or jump-180 to fix driving directions. (X on controllers I believe)
– Aerial game.
=> Not too bad for their current ability, but in order to really make sure that they can dominate, they should learn some aerial abilities. Very much so for defense. I highly recommend doing the given practice in the game Hard version. That will focus on aerial and hard to defend goal shots. Doing that perfectly will aid in their ability to predict and get needed aerial practice.
Kyle Frick & Scott Zackman – Rutgers Esports
I include this feedback to help you understand that we aren’t playing for fun. Just like all the other “real” sports our esports practices include a game plan to help us get better. We have drills, we scrimmage, and I give the same type of feedback to my players as I did when I coached wrestling, football, and track at the varsity level. That’s because there are a lot of opportunities that come with being a competent esports player and I want to make sure my students can take advantage of all of them. And because we will need to get better since our next game is against Rutgers followed by the University of Northern Colorado.
Below I have included the stream of our match with William Annin for your viewing pleasure. Skip around if you don’t have the full 90 minutes to watch. It really picks up about halfway in. We are playing the Vikings again in early February. Stay tuned to twitch.tv/fhkesports for all your FH Knights esports news.
Until Next Time,
cross-posted at Teched Up Teacher
Chris Aviles presents on education topics including gamification, technology integration, BYOD, blended learning, and the flipped classroom. Read more atTeched Up Teacher.