Last year the New Mexico Activities Association sanctioned Esports, allowing schools to create a school sponsored Esport team. In its inaugural season there were 29 schools that participated in the season which included a regular season, playoff, and championship games. Rio Rancho won the championship in the Esports League of Legends and Rocket League while Los Alamos won the title in Smite.
This season Hobbs High will field a team in all three events, League of Legends, Rocket League, and Smite. The team will be led by first year head coach Anna Burns, who teaches AP Computer Science Principles. Before you ask, Burns will tell you she is not a gamer, and has no experience with any of the three games chosen by the NMAA for the Esports league. She is just as excited as the players in seeing Esports getting noticed and at the support Hobbs High has given to her players.
“I am not a gamer at all,” Burns said. “My grandson loves gaming and my husband plays games, but I knew nothing about these games. I teach AP Computer Science Principles, and a lot of these kids were in there and we were talking about it. They were like ‘Mrs. you need to do the coach’ and I was like ‘you don’t want me as the coach. You want someone who knows what they are doing.’ So, I thought I’ll see about it and I called Mrs. Wilson the athletic director and asked if anybody is interested in the position. So I thought well I can do it so they can have a team.”
For Burns, taking on the role of the head coach in Esports gives students a chance to participate in something they enjoy and meet new players. At the same time she enforces to her players they are under the same guidelines as a football and basketball players under the NMAA.
“This gives a lot of our kids involved in things that they would not be involved in any other way,” she said. “They don’t play regular sports. Some do, but a lot don’t, and they needed something else they can do and be interested in. They still have to be eligible (because) it’s a NMAA sanctioned sport so they follow the same guidelines as a player who plays football or basketball. They have to keep their grade point up. I require discipline and attendance from them and we have to do a community service project, which we will be doing later on. We have to do the same thing everybody else does.”
She is not alone in her excitement for the upcoming season. The players themselves are excited to begin the inaugural season of the Eagles Esport team.
“Back from where I’m from, because I moved from Texas, I got excited because I went from a much smaller town than Hobbs,” League of Legend player Ian Blancas said. “The opportunity to do this is pretty fun and new. It’s exciting to be put in the proper competitive environment and to see what it is like for once.”
He added that the other players are excited and the team is learning the basics of the game and how to handle situations. So far, he has seen plenty of improvements in the other players and himself.
Jason Hardison plays Rocket League, a game similar to indoor soccer but with race-cars instead of players. He is also excited at Hobbs making an Esport team.
“I’m pretty actually excited,” he said. “I haven’t really played a lot of sports but I’m looking forward to this. I’m pretty excited (to compete against other teams).”
Smite player Kevin Jimenez expressed his excitement at being able to play an multi-massive online role playing game under the Eagles name and in the competitive level.
“I’m pretty excited knowing we have the opportunity to give other people a chance to prove themselves not just physical but mental skills,” he said.
Jimenez has been playing Smite since the game was in beta and added the team is working on communicating well with each other to the point where they do not need to actual need to communicate through words.
With Esport just starting there will be some confusion on how the matches are played between schools. Unlike traditional sports where both teams need to be in the same venue for a match, that will not be the case in Esport as the games will be played online. Burns explained that matches are set by the NMAA using a company sanctioned by New Mexico.
“We go through a company called PlayVS,” she said. “That is what the state of New Mexico uses. They schedule all the matches and then we sign up online the same time they (their opponent) do. I’m in touch with the coaches, I usually call them to make sure everybody is ready to go and everything is setup correctly.”
She added PlayVS sets up the matches for League of Legends, Smite, and Rocket League. In those games League of Legends and Smite will play two games and Rocket League plays three games. The winner of each game earns a point for the team and at the end of the season the points are totaled for playoff seeding.
Burns runs her team just like any other NMAA sport and the players practice Monday through Friday from 3:30 to 6 p.m. Each day has a different team working on getting to know each other and learning to play together. Its during practice the players learn strategies that accommodate each players style of play.
Hobbs Esport season will begin Tuesday and go until the final week of April. Playoffs will begin in May, with the possibility of having all the playoff teams in Albuquerque for the matches. It would be similar to the big Esports events shown on ESPN, but Burns said they are still working on the possibility.
When you go to the Esports room, you will notice the Eagles are not playing on outdated computers and monitors, Hobbs High went out and got gaming computers, curved flat screen monitors and brand new actual gaming chairs. Burns and the players are grateful to the school for giving them the tools to actually be competitive.
“It’s awesome,” Burns said. “One of the biggest support has been TJ Parks. He was 100 percent on board with this and thought this was great to reach some of those kids that needed something else in their afterschool curriculum. When you have that you cant ask for more.
“They made this space for use where we will be comfortable and inviting and not just stuck in a hole somewhere. We have an actual decent room and they gave us a budget. Josh Kelly put all the computers together for us and they got chairs for the kids. When you are sitting and playing games for that long you have to be comfortable, you cannot be in a chair like I am in now (a plastic chair). You get to uncomfortable and that’s an important part of playing.”
She added that all the equipment Hobbs gave them will allow them to be competitive against schools like Los Alamos that has a virtual reality lab where they play. She said Hobbs was really good to them.
“I would love to see this program grow bigger and I think it can,” Burns said.
The Hobbs Esport team will begin its season Tuesday, and Burns said the team’s goal this season is to win and be competitive.