Boss fight: Competitive videogaming comes to Old Rochester

Mar 9, 2018

The players of Old Rochester's newest sports team are huddled around the desk of advisor MJ Linane, plotting out a strategy for their next game.

They're not huddled around the diagram of a play though; instead, they're huddled around Linane's computer, studying statistics from rival players in the videogame "League of Legends."

No, that last sentence was not a typo. The high school's newest sports team is an "egaming" team—the Bulldogs play competitive videogames, facing off against other schools.

How does an egaming team work?

Old Rochester's Bulldogs belong to the "High School Esports League," which espouses the many benefits of high school egaming on its website. Among them? Increased teamwork and team building skills, a number of scholarship opportunities offered through the league, and a pathway into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, due to computer and videogame technology.

Team members, of which there are five, pick the videogame of their choice, from eight different options, including "Overwatch," "Hearthstone," "Call of Duty: World War II," and "Super Smash Bros." (Sadly for me, "MarioKart" is not included.)

The players then go head-to-head against other egaming teams.

The Bulldogs play a game against opposing teams on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Both the regular season and the playoff season (which starts later this month) are five weeks long.

The "League of Legends" Bulldogs are currently ranked fifth of 10 in the "HSEL East" division, where other opponents include egaming teams from Acton-Boxborough, West Bridgewater, Taunton High School and Bishop Feehan Academy.

The school has more than one egaming team though; Linane said there had been enough interest to start a second team of five. Members of the second team have chosen to play "Rocket League"—they are ranked seventh of 10 in their division.

Old Rochester senior Emo Schiappa (coincidentally, the winner of the senior superlative title "Best Gamer") kickstarted the team.

"Actually, it started as a joke," he said. "My friends and I played a lot of videogames. We used to joke around—'Hey, we're pretty good at this, we should be a sports team.'"

Then, he said, he found the High School Esports League online. "Maybe this could be a real thing," he thought to himself.

Schiappa approached Linane, the school's technology teacher, about sponsoring the team. In short order, an egaming team was born. Alongside Schiappa, seniors Cam Buler, Jake Thompson and Jahn Pothier, as well as junior Michael Stacks, were the first players. They quickly dragged in senior Gabe Shriver, who said he'd never really played videogames before.

"Then he got home from a swim meet and basically gained 30 levels in a weekend," Linane said. "That usually takes months, that's crazy."

Several of the players are multi-sport athletes; Shriver was on the swim team, while Schiappa played football and Pothier runs cross-country.

As the players' videogame routine is now a school-sanctioned activity, most players said their parents didn't have much of an issue with it. "My parents get annoyed when it's dinnertime and I can't come down for dinner because I'm in the middle of a game," Stacks joked. "But it's a school commitment. It wouldn't be quite the same if I was just playing videogames on my own."