Old Rochester esports tops league, learns life skills

Jan 12, 2023

MATTAPOISETT — Gunner McGrath expertly maneuvered the ball from centerfield and past his opponents. Playing a tough offense, he scored the first goal of the match. 

Then he put down his controller and took a breather. 

McGrath, a student at Old Rochester Regional Junior High School, is a player on one of the school’s esports teams. 

Esports are competitive video games played either alone or with a team. 

McGrath plays Rocket League, a video game where players control a car that jumps, bumps and drives around an arena with the goal of knocking a ball into a goal — a lot like soccer. 

This 3-on-3 team game is played competitively around the world. The prize pool provided by the Rocket League Championship Series, a professional esports league, currently sits at $6 million.

The league at Old Rochester is only competing for bragging rights. 

Brian Almeida, who teaches technology and engineering at the school, started the esports team in November. 

According to Almeida, it wasn’t hard to start the team. Old Rochester Regional High School already has an esports team, he knew there would be interest and Principal Silas Coellner “was really into it.”

“The children that don’t have an interest in traditional sports, they get to do something different,” said Almeida. “They get to play video games, [where] they’re already competitive, in a structured environment.”

The teams meet three times each week and watch live streams of esports coaches, who offer advice and tips.

On Thursday, Jan. 12, the students in Almeida’s esports team competed against students from across Massachusetts. 

Old Rochester students made up two Rocket League teams and two Super Smash Brothers teams. Super Smash Brothers is a crossover fighting game where characters like Mario, Sonic and Pikachu battle each other. 

Henry Becker, 13, likes playing Super Smash Brothers because he likes “being able to dominate and battle.” 

Avid Smash Brothers players typically “main” a character, who they specialize in playing as. Becker mains Ike, a swordsman from the “Fire Emblem” game series.

James Hilton, 13, mains Bowser who is Mario’s rival. Both players competed in three-round matches against players from other schools. 

So far this season, the teams at Old Rochester are first in the Massachusetts Middle School Esports League. In fact, the top three Rocket League teams and the top two Super Smash Brothers teams in the league are from Old Rochester.

The results from Thursday’s games are pending as of press time.

If the Old Rochester players keep it up, they could make it to the League’s semifinal tournament in March. 

But Almeida’s goals as coach don’t stop at rankings and scores, he hopes to instill positive values in his players. 

When kids play video games against online opponents, said Almeida, it can be hard to see their competitors as real people. He hopes that by playing against other students from other Massachusetts schools, they learn the “soft skills” of good sportsmanship and camaraderie. 

“The kids really want to work on their competitive skills, and they want to come in first,” said Almeida. “But what I'm more concerned about is collaboration, analysis, critical thinking and making sure they're having fun.”