ETHS eSports takes gaming to the next level

Christopher Vye, Sports Editor

Walk into the South Technology Center (STC) this year and you’ll notice something different. Juxtaposed against the fluorescent overhead lights and dull styrofoam ceiling tiles lies an all new assortment of twelve state-of-the-art gaming PCs, complete with monitors, keyboards and even mice. Together, this equipment retails for a grand total of $36,000.

So, why is this in the STC now?

ETHS eSports. 

Founded by a group of eleven seniors, ETHS eSports aims to provide Evanston students with an outlet for competitive gaming that is both equitable and inclusive. Though the team has faced its fair share of adversities thus far, interest in the team has been higher than its founders could have ever imagined. The team may only be just a month old, but one thing is already abundantly clear: it’s here to stay.

Regardless of whether one considers eSports to be actual sports, the sheer fact of the matter is that eSports require a similar time commitment, are similarly competitive and are even similarly popular to more traditional sports. In fact, according to research from Syracuse University, competitive eSports have more viewers than every major US Sport except football. Yet, despite their huge popularity, Evanston had never had an eSports team of its own. That is, until now.

“I’ve been a gamer as I grew up,” says ETHS eSports President Adil Alibhai. “Sophomore year when [school] was e-learning, me and my friends, we used to play video games, we used to talk about how we could [start] an eSports team at the school. We would always discuss how we could make it into a huge team and go to State, play finals, all that.”

There was, however, one big roadblock in the way of this idea—finding a sponsor. Thankfully, Alibhai and his friends were able to find what they were looking for in his freshman year geometry teacher Jose Arias. Although not a gamer, Arias’ previous experience working with Alibhai made him want to help. 

“Somebody like Adil, he is here to make sure that people have access to the gaming community,” says Arias.

“I didn’t remember the last time I played a game, but what I did have was a very solid group of students that were looking [to start] a competitive eSports team. The initial block that they had was they didn’t have a sponsor…The reason I am here [now] is because of that good core of students.”

With a sponsor in hand, a lengthy process of planning and preparation to get the team off the ground commenced. Everything from what leagues the team would compete in, where in the school it would actually do that and how it would pay for gaming equipment had to be sorted out. It was especially important to Arias that eSports team members would not have to supply their own equipment so that cost was not a barrier for aspiring team members.

“It is important to us as the eSports team to make sure that if somebody doesn’t have the Wi-Fi or the PCs that they need, our priority is to make sure that they get access to the computers here,” says Arias.

Once all that was finally said and done, ETHS eSports went public. The team held its first informational meeting on Aug. 25.

“Our main goal for the informational meeting was just to see how much interest there was [and] to get players to know that this exists at ETHS,” says Alibhai. 

Roughly 50 students attended this meeting, and after a second push for enrollment at the activities fair, the team has expanded to roughly 100 members—larger than most ETHS sports programs. 

So far, ETHS eSports has either started or has plans to start teams across a selection of eight different games: Overwatch, Valorant, Fortnite, Rocket League, Minecraft, Brawlhalla and MultiVersus. While all of these games implement a ranking system, in order for players to join the official ETHS team, one still must try out rather than simply present their rank.

“The thing is, if you’re super high ranked, we don’t base you off that because we want cooperative people who want to have fun,” says ETHS eSports Vice President Brad Le. “We don’t want somebody closed off and solo that just doesn’t care about the rest of their teammates.”

In turn, this effort to encourage collaboration between team members has also led to a stronger sense of community—something that can be, at times, hard for gamers to find.

“When we’re in the [STC], I love the feeling of having everybody together,” says senior and ETHS eSports founding member Ava Moseley. “We’re all concentrating and everybody cheers when you clutch up a round. I love the support and the vibe. It makes [gaming] a lot more fun, because usually when I’m playing games, I’m just in my room alone in the dark, and it’s a little sad.”

If there’s one thing that has made building this community a challenge though, it’s been getting girls to join. Though lack of female representation in gaming is an issue far greater than ETHS, there are still ways in which it can be rallied against on a local level.

Moseley discusses some of the steps she has taken in order to do just that.

“I think there’s a lot of girls who game at this school,” says Moseley, “As the Social Media Manager, I’ve tried to include pictures of us girls to show that there there’s girls on this team, that we welcome you.”

And as Le puts it, that’s what ETHS eSports is all about.

“We’re welcome to any kind of gamer.”