MONROE — During the 2018-19 school year, Monroe High School added a new extracurricular activity for students to join — a video game club.
After seeing that several students were not involved in any after-school clubs, a couple of staff members decided to help create something that was different from the long-lasting clubs like Spanish, German and FBLA.
“We found that there was a population of students not involved with other extracurricular activities but wanted a way to socialize and connect with the school through their love of video games,” said Matt Bordner, a math teacher. “We created the video game club and had a lot of fun playing various games, with probably the favorite being Super Smash Bros.”
One of club members, junior Ben Moon, said he really enjoyed Super Smash Brothers, a game that originated with a version for the Nintendo 64 more than 20 years ago.
“My favorite game was Super Smash Bros because it can be set up differently for every person’s playstyle in the club,” Moon said. “The competitive members can all play together and work on honing their skills in the game while the people who just want to relax can play in a separate corner and become better friends with each other through their play.”
We found that there was a population of students not involved with other extracurricular activities but wanted a way to socialize and connect with the school through their love of video games.Matt Bordner, Monroe esports coach
Reaction and reception as a club from the student body was primarily positive, said Moon. “We do have a few hecklers here and there, but for the most part we’ve made a huge splash among our peers.”
The club has remained strong in its second year, so much so that it “leveled up” to an esports team that competes against other schools from across the country.
“We started tossing out the idea of starting an esports team. The video game club would still exist, but it would give students a chance to compete on a bigger scale and represent our school as a team,” Bordner said. Monroe principal Chris Medenwaldt gave his approval and MHS began playing against other teams on the platform PlayVS.
“It’s a national platform and the official esports partner of NFHS,” Bordner said of the governing body of high school sports across America, the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Monroe’s team plays a game called Smite, a third-person multiplayer battle arena game that is available to play on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch, plus is available to play on Microsoft Windows and Mac computers. Other games in the PlayVS league include Fortnight and Rocket League.
“This is PlayVS’s first time offering Smite, and so there have been a few glitches here and there. Overall, our kids have really enjoyed the experience so far and the camaraderie they have built has been really entertaining,” Bordner said.
The MHS team has 12 players — nine boys and three girls; five seniors, four juniors, two sophomores and a freshman. The dozen students are divided up into two five-player teams called Cheese Per Second 1 and Cheese Per Second 2. Both teams have an alternate player that rotates into the playing lineup each week.
“The team is definitely diverse,” said Moon. “We have people who differ largely in comfort around others. For many of us this is the first club we’ve participated in for MHS.”
So far this season, Cheese Per Second 2 is tied for 11th place in its league with a 6-2 record. Cheese Per Second 1 is 4-4 and tied for 23rd.
“There are 57 teams in the Smite league,” Bordner said. “PlayVS has a postseason system set in place, but as of now we don’t know how that will look with the coronavirus shutdown.”
MHS Esports Roster
Dani Blum, Sr.
Jared Harpstrite, Sr.
Briza Montanye, Sr.
Scott Navarro, Sr.
Christopher Andraski, Jr.
Zander Mader, Jr.
Ben Moon, Jr.
Auria Sieme, Jr.
James Fortney, So.
Owen Schipper, So.
Zeke Smith, So.
Xander Obert, Fr.
Matches are done virtually at 4 p.m. on Thursdays. When the COVID-19 outbreak shuttered school, the team still participated in a few matches from their homes — including one streamed on Twitch — before PlayVS shut down the league temporarily.
“Once the state shut down schools, we were still able to compete from home for a few weeks which was great. Our kids organized themselves to still play on game days on their own systems at home. We even live streamed one of our matches on Twitch which was a lot of fun for folks to watch at home. We have played schools from many different states,” Bordner said.
In esports, like other competitive sports, coordination and strategy is key to success. Some players have more experience than others, but working together leads to more positive results.
“Some members on the team have never played a game like Smite before until now, so in a lot of our games we face an uphill battle,” Moon said. “We play against schools across the nation and we’ve still managed to maintain more wins than losses this year, but that has primarily been through the coordination of my teammates and excitement we all have to get better at the game.”
Bordner, who also coaches the boys and girls tennis teams, has enjoyed watching his mixed roster blend together.
The team is definitely diverse. We have people who differ largely in comfort around others. For many of us this is the first club we’ve participated in for MHS.Ben Moon, Monroe junior
“Our roster ranges from very experienced players to several that were brand new to the game when it started. That has really allowed for our teams to find ways to collaborate and help each other improve. The game requires a lot of teamwork, communication, and strategy and so it’s been really fun to see those skills develop in our players,” Bordner said. “Coaching these kids has been a lot of fun, as we work on a lot of skills that are very applicable outside of video games. Our players are also held to the same standard as other athletes at the HS, and so for a bunch of these kids, they’ve had to step up their accountability in the classroom which is fantastic.”
Coaches for the squad include Bordner, Ryan Strunz, Alex Lentz and Ryan Latimer.
“Ryan Latimer has been integral in getting our esports team with a ‘home base’ at our school as he has been our technology guru for the team. We have a dedicated room at the HS with PCs set up and have plans to hopefully expand next year,” Bordner said. “Alex Lentz had some familiarity with Smite before we started and was very helpful in spreading knowledge to myself and Ryan Strunz.”
The Wisconsin High School Esports Association is trying to create a state-wide organization, similar to the WIAA. Monroe doesn’t yet compete in the WIHSEA circuit, which plays League of Legends and Rocket League.
There are 43-schools in the WIHSEA League of Legends circuit, which is separated into three divisions. Pecatonica has a team in the Division 3 Void Conference, which also includes Johnson Creek and Cambria-Friesland. Southern Wisconsin schools like Jefferson, McFarland, Baraboo, Clinton and Milton also have teams in the WIHSEA.
Pecatonica coach Doug Pibal said that it was his school’s first year in competitive gaming as well. The Vikings have eight students involved, meaning there is a varsity roster of five players. The League of Legends season was January through March.
“We met after school twice per week from 3:45 to 5:30,” Pibal said. “In the fall, we had only practiced, not competed, but next year we will also compete in the fall in the Overwatch game.”
Pibal said his newly-formed team learned a lot and grew as gaming competitors this year.
“I have heard there is significant interest from next year’s freshmen,” Pibal said. “Our team captain wants to help structure our practices next year. It is a great outcome when students want to take part in the organization and planning.”
I have heard there is significant interest from next year’s freshmen. Our team captain wants to help structure our practices next year. It is a great outcome when students want to take part in the organization and planning.Doug Pibal, Pecatonica esports coach
Fort Atkinson, Jefferson, Baraboo and Big Foot have teams in Rocket League, which separates 34 teams into three divisions and six conferences. Rocket League is a soccer game that involves driving vehicles. It is also available to play on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Windows and Mac.
League of Legends is a multiplayer battle arena. Launched in 2009, by 2012 it was the most-played PC game in North America and Europe, according to Forbes. Four years later, more than 100 million active players played each month. This past September, Riot Games, the creator of League of Legends, boasted that there were more than 8 million people playing at peak times each day.
Bordner said joining the Wisconsin league is something that MHS might explore in the future.
“We chose PlayVS and the national platform this year because our students really liked the idea of competing in Smite,” Bordner said.
Moon said that the popularity of the esports team is growing around the school, too, and he is optimistic for next school year.
“With the current climate of things, we feel that the esports team will receive a lot of attention this year which will hopefully lead to more members next year so we can branch out more,” Moon said. “Right now we only have 12 members on the esports team so we are very limited in what we play, but now that we are gathering more attention we hope to branch out into playing the other games that are offered to us like League of Legends, Rocket League, and Fortnite next year.”
Moon said that by choosing to compete against other schools in esports, and not just sitting around on a couch facing the computer, there is a sense of school pride involved that might not have been true of gamers prior to today.
“It creates a way for people who aren’t as physically active to still participate in school spirit. It allows us to walk around the school feeling like we help raise the reputation of MHS as a whole,” Moon said.