The Linden High School Esports Varsity Rocket League team is ending the 2022/2023 school year as state champions. The team won two state championship titles at the recent spring seasons in the Michigan High School Esports League (MHSEL) and the Michigan High School Esports Federation (MiHSEF).
More than 80 Michigan students competed in the MHSEL grand finals at Western Michigan University’s Esports Arena on Saturday, April 29 where the Rocket League Black team of Alex Ziccardi, Max Montague and Nick Miller took first place. They won first again at the MiHSEF finals on Saturday, May 13 at the University of Michigan-Flint.
Linden teams also won the Motor City Rivals Tournament. Their other Rocket League team and Overwatch team qualified for tournaments but lost in the first rounds this year.
Max Montague, varsity Rocket League player who also plays football and track, said, “It felt amazing. We have been working together to accomplish this for six months and to finally bring it all together when it matters feels amazing.”
Montague said they’ve made leaps and bounds as a program.
“Both rocket league teams (JV and varsity) have qualified for playoffs, and the varsity team has won two consecutive state titles. I’m not too familiar with our Overwatch team, but I know they’re good too,” he said. “I think the purpose of the program is to get kids out of their comfort zone, talk to others, make some new friends, and compete against each other as well as other teams. I love friendly competition.”
Students can win money at competitions and talk with college representatives about scholarship opportunities.
“In fact, our Varsity Rocket League team has made $1,000 in a tournament, and we have had many chances to talk to colleges about scholarship opportunities. Dozens of college representatives attend competitions and state championship events to scout players at the event. I’ve made connections with people from GVSU, Lawrence Tech, Concordia, UofM-Flint, UofM, Eastern Michigan, MSU, and some others. All from esports,” Montague said.
Junior Nick Miller, who plays on the Varsity Rocket League team, said the purpose of the program is to “competitively play games but to also have fun, meet other people who share the same interests and to learn good sportsmanship and leadership skills.”
Coach Sherri St. Clair said Linden has had an esports team for about four years. They’ve played in the MiHSEF league for three years now. This was their first season with MHSEL and the High School Esports League (HSEL).
“The purpose is to give the students another place to learn about competing with a team, how to have good sportsmanship, and to help grow their confidence in their abilities as well as to create another connection for them to their community,” she said.
This year, they joined new leagues and played longer into the year. The season officially ended May 15. The number of teams varies. This year, they had six different teams playing four different games including Rocket League, Smash Bros Ultimate, League of Legends, Overwatch, and Valorant. They have around 10-12 players.
Winning state titles helped dispel the negative stereotypes about gaming.
“When people hear about the possibility of scholarships, that helps, too. Our community and parents have been really supportive, but we are still trying to get the word out. We have a lot of students that are just hearing about Linden having a team,” St. Clair said.
Montague is aware of the stigma surrounding gaming.
“Being a fairly well-known and successful football and track athlete, there is definitely some razzing and teasing I get from playing video games competitively. But, they all got real quiet when our team won $1,000 for the school. I’ve also embraced it on my social media and am willing to answer any questions my friends have,” he said.
Students in the program come from a variety of backgrounds including marching band, choir, robotics, quiz bowl and more.
“Esports has definitely taught me how to communicate with colleges and explore opportunities for my future. With all these interviews and questions about my life and my career, I feel more prepared and confident when taking the next steps for my future,” he said.
St. Clair said getting to know the kids and watching them grow is the best part of the program.
“Alex Ziccardi is an original member from four years ago when we started and he grew into a leader and a very talented player on our team. Now he is graduating and going to MSU to be a veterinarian,” St. Clair said. “He is also planning to play Rocket League at MSU. Nick and Max joined last year and they have really stepped up and fit in with the team. They will be our team leaders next year, with Owen Croney our Overwatch Captain. Owen was a transfer to Linden last year. He took on a role as captain and made a lot of friends quickly.”
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