PALMYRA — The world of competitive eSports gaming has now found a home at Palmyra-Macedon High School.
Just like their athletic counterparts, the members of Pal-Mac’s eSports team practice daily after school, compete against other districts and work together to achieve victory.
This team’s practice “field” is the old downstairs cafeteria, where 13 high performing gaming computers are arranged in L-like fashion against two walls. The players are all seated in front of the colorful monitors … clicking away and talking to each other across the room as they compete in five vs. five teams in the game League of Legends.
This fall is the official start of eSports at Pal-Mac, but Coach Jeff Cheramie — who teaches forensics and living environment at the high school — said last spring the district did a trial run with five students. The group built five gaming computers as their “appetizer” for the season. The team’s assistant coach is high school math teacher Pete Balaji, a gamer himself.
The team is open to students in grades 9 through 12; its 12 members include one girl and 11 boys. The team had its first competition Oct. 29; they will play against other schools regionally and statewide every Tuesday on the PlayVS gaming platform, which is a sanctioned organization that is able to keep track of team and individual player statistics. Cheramie said the fall season will run through Dec. 10 and only feature the League of Legends game. He’s hopeful another game will be added for the spring season. First-person shooter games are not allowed.
Cheramie said he approached district administrators last January about the possibility of adding an eSPorts team and said they, the school board, high school principal and faculty have been extremely supportive. He added that Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES has also been instrumental in helping with technical support, which can be challenging in a school setting where the Internet is highly regulated.
He sees this new extracurricular offering as “building another family” for students who may not be involved in other school activities.
“This is the group of students that want to leave and go home right after school and they’re here,” Cheramie said.
And being a member of the eSports team means students have to follow the same scholastic and behavior eligibility standards that apply to any extracurricular activity.
“They have to be passing in order to participate,” Cheramie said.
Balaji is a veteran player of League of Legends and said the game requires much communication and strategy among teammates (the game is played in a 5 vs. 5 format). And those are important skills, he maintains.
“You have to be part of a team to play the game,” he said. “Students need to work together to accomplish a goal. In any sport, that’s what you do.”
Balaji said misconceptions abound about computer gaming and naysayers don’t understand the level of interactions you have in a game and the relationships that develop among players.
“It’s another kind of common ground to meet more people,” he said.
The students who have given the team a try agree.
Twelfth-grader Lily DeMar, who helped build one of the gaming computers last spring, is a longtime gamer who says she has met new people through the eSports team.
“The club is very good for meeting others you wouldn’t normally meet,” she said.
And building a computer provided her with a new set of skills of which she’s understandably proud.
“The first time it turned on it was a very good feeling,” she said.
Fellow senior Timothy Stewart said he wishes the team existed when he was a freshman.
“I enjoy video games and it seemed like a pretty cool club to join. It’s fun,” he said.
Tenth-grader Kameron Vanderwall has had “a blast” helping to build a PC and said joined the team because he has “a passion” for video games. As an experienced League of Legends player, he said his teammates “... look to me for guidance a lot.”
“I thought it would be a good aspect to bring it to the competitive level,” he said. “And I’m playing with friends I wouldn’t have branched out to if this team didn’t exist.”
Balaji’s experience with League of Legends has come in handy, however the students are proving to be quick studies.
“They ask me some things and if somebody has to leave early I might be able to jump on and give them some pointers,” he said. “But actually some of them are able to give me pointers now.”