Apr. 13—Dalton High School's Esports (electronic sports) program continues its success and rapid growth, which is encouraging to the team's coach because of the many benefits of Esports for students.
Students "get to work within a team, which is huge for (youth), and can change their lives," said Jesús Jacobo Martínez, Dalton High's Esports head coach. Furthermore, game design and computer science pathways are offered at the high school, proving computers and video gaming can be careers, not just entertainment, and those programs blend smoothly with the Esports extracurricular.
"This was seen as a side hobby 10 years ago, even five years ago," said Jackson Percy, a member of the varsity squad. "That's changed with the prizes, money and" availability of college scholarships.
In 2019, more than 130 colleges had varsity Esports teams, according to ESPN. That same year, colleges offered $16 million in Esports scholarships for students.
"You get to hang out with friends and have fun," said freshman Josselyne Velasquez. "I could make something out of this in the future," too, like a career, and Esports "teaches you patience."
Esports is "growing to be very popular" at the high school, with more than 20 members between the varsity and junior varsity squads, said Stephanie Hungerpiller, Dalton High's principal. That's roughly double the number from the opening season in 2019-20.
For 2020-21, the school added a second junior varsity squad to meet demand, and "we went from zero girls to four" on the team, Jacobo Martínez said. "We want more kids to experience this."
Freshmen Adriana Nolasco and Velasquez bristled at the notion that Esports is "just for boys," they said. In fact, that idea motivated them even more.
"It got me upset, because it's 2021, and you can do anything you want as long as it interests you and you put your mind to it," said Velasquez, a member of one of the junior varsity teams. "I wanted to make a difference."
And she made an immediate impression, said Leelan Satterfield, a captain of one of the junior varsity teams. "Her first day, she became a starter."
"You can learn anything new," Nolasco said. "I didn't know anything about Rocket League, but I got a lot better" during the course of the season.
Dalton High focuses on Rocket League, which is like "soccer for cars," according to Jacobo Martínez, for Esports competitions.
Nolasco was encouraged by her friend, Velasquez, to join the squad, and "it was easy to fit it," said the former. "It's competitive, but also feels like a family, and (Jacobo Martínez) is like our dad."
Freshman Isak Orellana has improved in Rocket League by competing against Satterfield, Orellana said. "He beats me, but I'm competitive, so I want to beat him (eventually)."
The Georgia High School Association has approved more games for play in Esports, including FIFA World Cup soccer and Madden NFL, so Jacobo Martínez expects participation to increase in future seasons.
"We have a lot of kids who love soccer and have the knowledge, but they might not have the athletic ability" to play on the actual pitch, he said. However, "they can play (soccer with) Esports."
"I'm trying to learn FIFA," Nolasco said. That game is the strength of Jacobo Martinez, but "I want to take him on."
Due to the rapid rise in Esports popularity, Jacobo Martinez will start an Esports team at The Dalton Academy when that magnet school for students in grades 10-12 opens for the 2021-22 academic year, he said. "This is exciting and more evidence of student interest in Esports."
Dalton High and the Academy can play against one another and develop a rivalry that will spur both toward excellence, he said. "That will be really cool."
Nolasco and Satterfield both plan to attend The Dalton Academy and be on the Esports team.
"I'm glad they'll have a team over there," said Nolasco, who will attend the magnet school for its healthcare science and sports medicine pathway. "I hope I'll be even better (at Esports) next season."
As a freshman, Satterfield already had to adjust to a new school, and then many of his friends opted for virtual school during the pandemic, he said.
"I didn't have that many people to talk to (at school), but (Esports) opened up a bunch of new friends for me."
Junior Reid Rehberg has learned the importance of team over individualism during his time with the CatastrophicGamers.
"The biggest takeaway from Esports would be that teamwork is everything," said the varsity player. "You need a solid team behind you if you want to succeed."
Esports has been a solace during the pandemic, a stressful time, Orellana said.
"You're just in the moment playing, not thinking about anything else."
And current team leaders understand part of their responsibility is to grow the program, said Percy, a sophomore.
"It's our job to help them learn, so that they can get better, because they're going to (replace us) when we leave."
"Every student has a gift, but not all are gifted athletically," Jacobo Martínez said. Esports "gives them a sense of accomplishment, and they see they have value."