NISD set to host first esports tournament

They're not playing around

They’re not playing around. The Holmes High School esports team is preparing for competition and gaming is serious business.

“It’s not like playing games on the couch with your friends,” said junior Miles Cooper. “Esports is organized, competitive online video gaming. There are leagues, rankings, formats, and coaches.”

This is the first year NISD has offered esports as an extracurricular activity. Teams and individuals use two approved games – Super Smash Brothers (Nintendo Switch) and Rocket League (on laptops/PCs). The District provided controllers and Switches to the teams.

In early February, the District is hosting it’s first Esports Tournament with more than 300 middle and high school students signed up to compete representing 20 schools.

“I genuinely think this is important and momentous,” Cooper said. “I’ve dreamed of this since second grade and will finally see it realized.”

At Holmes, practices are every Tuesday through Thursday from 4:30 until almost 7 p.m. in a language lab. Students tried out to participate and almost 40 make up one of the largest teams in Northside.

Team coach Joshua Mullenary is an English teacher by day, but brings his experiences as a former professional gamer to the newly-formed team.

“Esports is effort, teamwork, training, strategies, fundamentals, and listening to your coach,” Mullenary said. “Video games are to relieve stress. People might think they can do it, but most can’t at this competitive level.”

He’s passionate about esports as an activity that is open to everyone and has the potential to provide opportunities for students in higher education. Esports scholarships are available and he wants his team to have relationships with college and university programs.

“I want to get you in college,” Mullenary said. “That is my focus.”

Cooper said most of the team came in with some prior experience with the games from playing at home. It gives them an understanding of the basics before attempting to play competitively. But for most outside the world of esports, there’s still a lot of misconceptions about the skill level and hours of practice it takes to be successful.

“Esports doesn’t receive the recognition it deserves even among my generation,” Cooper said.

The tide is turning though. ESPN regularly features esports programming, there’s been talk of esports in future Olympic games, and according to a recent KSAT-12 news report, there could soon be an esports arena here in San Antonio.

Here in Northside ISD, the first tournament is a launching pad for both the program and for students.  

“This event will provide students with an opportunity to compete on a level playing field and experience an environment similar to that of college level and professional tournaments,” said Carrie Squyres, Director of Academic Technology.

For Cooper, the esports experience has already brought him out of his shell and introduced him to new people, no small feats for someone with social anxiety. He’s looking forward to being a “shoutcaster” and providing entertaining and informative commentary during the final rounds of the tournament.

And after months of preparation, including scrimmages with other schools, Mullenary has advice for his team.

“Don’t come in last.”