E-Sports team debuts first season as only Catholic high school in league


Kristen Castillo

Wednesdays are for the Boys: From left to right, senior Tim Tian, junior Zipeng (Lester) Zhao, junior Nathan Cole, junior team captain Aiden Nguyen, senior Yunqi (Murphy) Chu, junior Travis Tran, junior Dylan Ebuhardt and junior Matthew Vu pose for a photo.

Kristen Castillo, Editor-in-Chief

E-Sports is a competitive league in which players compete in multiplayer strategy games against other teams. In the past years, the community surrounding the sport has gained global support. According to statista.com, the North American sports market for E-Sports grossed $392 million in 2017. The University of California, Irvine opened its very own E-Sports Arena on Sept. 23, 2016 where teams play at the competitive collegiate level.

This year, Orange County high schools became a part of the phenomenon. Starting this school year, UCI and the Orange County Department of Education created the Orange County High School E-Sports League. The league consists of 25 different high schools and 35 teams across the county. However, out of the 25 schools, the only Catholic high school that represented the Diocese of Orange County during the program’s first season was Mater Dei.

“We try to uphold the Mater Dei values just as any of our programs do,” founder and moderator of the team, Rick Thompson said. “We want to hold ourselves to the same levels of expectations in terms of sportsmanship, service, our Catholic identity; these are all important to the team as well as the program as a whole.”

The OC program reached out to the Mater Dei administration to ask if the school was interested in creating a team just days before the deadline for registration. Though the proposal was given to Thompson midway through the E-Sports season, he and junior team captain Aiden Nguyen worked together in a crunch to build two teams that would compete during the rest of the season along with two other teachers, Joe Torres and Chris Barstaad, serving as general managers. Some of the members were friends of Nguyen who played the game outside of school and others were members of the MD Video Game Club who expressed interest in the game.

“We already watched a lot of professionals play the game so we thought it’d be cool if we could do it ourselves and this game is an opportunity to do it,” Nguyen said.

The Mater Dei team is split up into two smaller teams, red and gray; both teams compete in the popular strategy game League of Legends. During the season, which runs from January to March, the teams met two times a week for two hour practices and competed against other schools every Wednesday in the library after school. Though the players on both teams received no formal training, the red team concluded their season with a 4-3 record. Their last game of the season resulted in a forfeit which affected their ability to qualify for playoffs.

“Most of the kids hadn’t been on teams so it was a different experience for sure” Nguyen said. “They’re just used to playing the game at home and they [weren’t] used to having a structure and a sense of importance that this was an actual sport and then after a few weeks they eventually started to take it more seriously and we did much better.”

While the teams were overall successful, some of the issues the team faced during their matches were being able to effectively communicate with each other. Part of the challenge was that some of the international students on the team prefer to speak in their native languages, making it difficult for the other team members to understand their actions during the matches.

“It’s important to have communication with each other so it was kind of like two different teams in one and that’s really bad because we couldn’t really work as a unit but eventually we communicated better,” Nguyen said.

Alongside communication and team building skills, the sport also fosters a variety of other skills such as critical thinking and coordination.

“Everyone has this bad stigma about video games and how it just promotes laziness and staring at a computer,” Nguyen said, “but I think as people become more accepting of it, people will realize the difficulty of it and how similar it is to real sports and how it takes the same skill and training.”

On campus, the team debuted in this year’s Spring Sports Rally explaining their sport and detailing their game schedule.

“We’re not really used to that type of attention so I mean it was kind of cool,” Nguyen said. “I don’t think our team should be seen as special but I think it should be seen as the same as any other sport team to be honest. The only difference is that we’re playing a different sport than them.”

Next year, the team plans to prioritize practicing with each other and engaging in more scrimmages against other schools in the league for the upcoming season. Looking forward, the team is hoping that many other Mater Dei League of Legends players come forward and show interest in joining the team. In the fall of the 2018-2019 school year, the E-Sports team will be holding formal tryouts open to all students interested in the sport.

“We’ve had a lot of interest both from a lot of local students also some strong international students as well,” Thompson said. “I think by pulling from both communities we will be one of the strongest schools in the competition. I wouldn’t be surprised if both of our teams are constantly competing towards the playoffs next year. With more people trying out for the team, I think we can only go up from here.”