High school sports go virtual


March 6, 2023

Our physical and virtual worlds are colliding at a seemingly breakneck pace. Gaming recently joined the ranks of school-sanctioned sports. NR-S is in the middle of its third season of having a competitive team, and my son is a member of the Valorant II team. First introduced in 2019, Valorant is a team-based tactical shooter and first-person shooter game developed and published by Riot Games.

Folks, this is quite a different experience than any other in high school sports. My son plays from the computer in his room, decked out in headphones with a microphone on the desk. As a parent, I get to "watch" by streaming the game on my own device in the living room (or anywhere for that matter).

My husband and I tuned in for a game a couple of weeks ago, and we spent a little over an hour in front of a screen. It took me the entire first game (they played two that night) to figure out the strategy. The live stream switches focus from player to player quite frequently, and when a player is killed in the round his or her animated character simply drops off the screen.

This is going to take a bit of adjustment for me, because I'm used to live action sports where I can see everyone on the court or field and focus on whichever player I want at any time. It's obvious when a player enters or exits a basketball or football game, and there's a lot of cheering. During the esports game, Chad and I chatted amongst ourselves to figure out what was going on.

Gaming is not something I know much about. I had very limited exposure to video games as a kid. The Nintendo Entertainment System launched when I was preschool age, and the only place I ever really played was at my Aunt Lucille's house. We took turns shooting the gun in "Duck Hunt," and I really didn't like the way that creepy dog laughed at me when I missed the ducks. We also played a little Super Mario Bros., and that distinctive "music" is forever ingrained in my brain.

When I was in college, Tekken 3 was all the rage. I played a few late-night sessions of this street fighting game on PlayStation with my roommate and our friends while living in the dorms.

When my kids were little, it was their nana who got them into gaming. She purchased a Nintendo DS for our oldest when she was 4 or 5. Of course, there was Super Mario Bros., not to mention a slew of games based on popular cartoons and shows at the time. I leaned towards the more "educational" choices, such as Brain Boost.

The gaming experience I enjoyed most with the kids was the live action games on the Wii, where you got points for actually dancing, or bowling, or playing what I call "hybrid" versions of a variety of games.

The dance mats were a trip, as we all took turns competing to see who could get the highest score dancing to top-charting pop and rock songs. Just Dance was my favorite. We put the Wii in the basement "man cave," and the kids engaged in physical activity for hours on end in the dead of winter. It was much easier than bundling them up in winter clothes to make a snowman for 15 minutes before their faces froze off, although we did that too.

Now, with a child competing in esports, I have a lot more to learn. So, after the game that night, we did what we do after watching any sporting event – we sat down with our kid and talked about it. We had supper together at the table, as we do every night we possibly can, and we had a conversation about school, work, sports and friends.

Reporter Nathan Price is the resident "expert" on gaming among our staff, and he shared with me some information about both the upside and the downside of this relatively new sport.

The upside is you can make serious money, if you're good. There is a huge tournament circuit for Valorant, the game my son plays, called the Valorant Champions Tour. As I write this, gamers are competing for $500,000 in cash prizes at one event, the VCT Lock//In at Sao Paulo, Brazil. A $100,000 prize goes to the top team, and even the team who finishes last earns $5,000 in cash.

According to esportsearnings.com, the top Valorant player is Austin Roberts, player ID "crashies." Roberts has earned $153,600 in the game since 2020 and $192,554 overall. A total of $15.6 million in prize money has been handed out from 885 Valorant tournaments since competitive play began in 2020.

Not impressed? Let me tell you about Johan "N0tail" Sundstein, the highest grossing player in competitive gaming right now. He has earned $6,976,271 (nearly $7 million!) since he began playing Dota 2 at the age of 15 in 2015. That's about $1 million per year on average, and he's only 22 years old!

Nathan said he's watched some of these tournaments, and the players are crazy good. This is where the downside comes in though – the players who climb the ranks and compete at this level, especially the younger ones, commit nearly their entire lives to gaming. Some of them have no social skills, and it's quite evident when they are interviewed after a competition.

In the midst of all this technology, it's still important to me to connect on a human level. I capitalize on every chance I get to interact with my kids. That can be hard to do when we all have tight schedules and time seems to move so fast our heads spin. Therefore, I'm going to do whatever I can to make sure that my son is not only a good gamer and good student, but also a good human with social skills.

NR-S is in a gaming co-op with two other schools, Garrison and Hazen, called The Triple Threat. The Valorant I team is having a successful season, with a record of 4-1. There are also Rocket League, Chess, Minecraft and Fortnite players. The live stream is open for anyone to watch, so if you're as curious as I am, tune in some night. Follow all the action on the team's Twitch page, https://m.twitch.tv/thetriplethreatngh/

Watch for articles on The Triple Threat in upcoming issues of the Transcript, and online at newrockfordtranscript.com. Now that the boys basketball season has ended, Nathan Price plans to switch gears and cover the esports action. The Fenworks state tournament is one month away!