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Shane Kudela distinctly remembers January of 2018. There was a buzz permeating the hallways at Case High School as students chatted about a new sports team being formed.

Not lacrosse, not hockey, but esports. Yes, esports.

“This was entirely the students’ idea,” said Kudela, a computer science and graphics design teacher at Case. “They started a gamers club a year before we formed the actual team, but now we’ve really picked up steam and we’re in a competitive league (Wisconsin High School Esports Association), which consists of several teams throughout the state of Wisconsin.”

So what exactly is esports?

Junior Hunter Cochran, 17, describes it as competitive multiplayer gaming, typically played on a computer, but also played on consoles like Xbox and PlayStation.

“I had always been interested in video games from a young age and I competed in a few online competitions for the game Starcraft 2 when I was in eighth grade,” Cochran said. “That competitive attitude to video games is what made me interested in esports.

“In my freshman and sophomore years, I had hoped that an esports team would be created at Case, but I did not know what it would look like, how it would be structured, and that it would eventually become a large part of my current identity.”

Cochran, along with 42 other Case students, comprise the esports team, which competes in three different games: Overwatch, League of Legends and Super Smash Bros.

In Overwatch, six players work together to secure and defend control points on a map or escort a payload across the map in a limited amount of time.

League of Legends is also team-based. Two teams of five battle head-to-head across multiple battlefields and game modes.

Super Smash Bros is the most unique of the three in that it can be played individually or as a team. It is a series of crossover fighting video games published by Nintendo, and primarily features characters from its various franchises, such as Mario and Bowser.

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In their first year as a structured team, the Case squad made significant strides during the regular season and postseason. All of Case’s regular season games were played at Not Your Parents Basement Gaming Lounge in Racine, 410 Main St.

“We played in eight regular season games starting in January and qualified for the state tournament,” Kudela said. “We play over a communication server called Discord, which allows us to communicate with each other and connect against our opponents online.

“We were the only high school from Racine to qualify for all three games at the state tournament (Smash, League and Overwatch),” Kudela added. “We have a captain for each game, and Hunter has been vital in helping some our players develop in a short amount of time.”

Cochran captains the varsity Overwatch team and takes great pride in leading his teammates.

“My favorite aspect of esports is the camaraderie that I experience not only within our own team and school, but with other teams as well,” Cochran said. “This is something I think is truly unique to esports, particularly the Overwatch team. If you watch our varsity football games against Horlick, for example, there is very little camaraderie shown between the teams. But in esports, I see Horlick’s team as more of a friendly rivalry, like one would have with a sibling.

“Making the esports team happen at Case was a long process for us, but the moment I realized the team was official was when I was invited to the WIHSEA (Wisconsin High School Esports Association) Discord channel,” Cochran said. “This allowed me to connect with other students in Wisconsin as well as the adults that brought this to fruition statewide.”

Case had its most success at the April 13 state tournament, hosted at GameOn in Fond Du Lac, in League of Legends. The team placed third after beating Horlick in a best of three series, then lost to Milton in the semifinals. Milton defeated Wausau West for the state championship. Case finished seventh in the Overwatch tournament. For Super Smash Bros, four students represented each school in 32-player single elimination tournament and none of the Eagles’ players made it out of the first round.

For Cochran and Kudela, they see the esports team at Case growing and improving next season.

“When I decided to be a captain for Overwatch was when I decided to take the responsibility of making Case and my teammates successful in esports, and I will take that responsibility to next school year as well,” Cochran said.

Added Kudela: “I think it’s going to explode. I have kids telling me every day ‘I didn’t know this existed’ and ‘That’s so cool’; I see this only being bigger and better as the years go on and I’m happy to lead these kids.”

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