Esports “Rocketing” to next level
By Tony Ciniglio
The moment was surreal.
Students, teachers, administrators and other school coaches converged on the once-pedestrian Publications Room at Sierra Canyon to support the burgeoning Sierra Canyon eSports team, which has seen exponential growth in just its second season.
There was a buzz. There was electricity. There was … shushing?
“Our Pocket League guys like it quiet,” said Javy Martinez, who is the Sierra Canyon eSports co-coach with Julie Ahring. “But the room was packed. It was like, holy cow, we actually had an atmosphere.”
Like it does for its other competitive teams, Sierra Canyon came out in droves to support the eSports team in its state semifinal against St. Ignatius in January.
The Publications Room on the first floor of the main building had been transformed into the eSports Room, upgraded with top-of-the-line computers and monitors along the walls, luminous lighting and a monitor for those wanting to watch the match.
Though Sierra Canyon lost to St. Ignatius to end the fall major, it set the stage for a strong 6-2 start in the spring major.
Since that fateful semifinal, the eSports team has been drawing a crowd to its weekly Thursday contests as it has become a popular on-campus destination.
“We’re on a roll lately,” Martinez said.
Martinez said Sierra Canyon started with five players in its first year.
That number has expanded to 17 players who make a commitment to one day of practice and one day of competition per week.
Using the CIF-approved Play Vs. platform, Sierra Canyon competes in three different games – Rocket League, Minecraft and Super Smash Bros – and receive one point for winning that game.
Rocket League and Super Smash Bros. require teams of three players. Minecraft is survival mode and can be played individually.
Realistically they could compete from home, but Martinez said he likes the idea of the camaraderie from competing together. He also implores his players to take a no-prisoner approach to scoring points to help with potential tiebreakers.
“I try to bring a competitive edge to the team,” said Martinez, who has served as a boys volleyball coach at Buckley, Oakwood, La Jolla Country Day and Milken.
Martinez said he and Ahring try to organize their group into three units – the alpha team, the beta team and the delta team.
The alpha team – featuring Tommy Wynne, Spencer Clark and Matthew Levine – is considered the top group. All three players compete in Rocket League, and they are currently the No. 1 ranked Rocket League team in California.
“Our alpha players, they do five pushups for every goal they give up,” Martinez said. “It’s kind of funny watching them – they’re not exactly the strongest kids – but I’ll go down and do some pushups with them too. We’re all in this together.”
The beta team of Ben Kushnir, Ethan Sarris and Eden Ornstein – the only girl player among the top 9 – is considered the No. 2 team.
Martinez said his delta team has been surpassing expectations and can challenge both the alpha and beta teams. Pierre Baza, Lance Matthies and Asher Gottlieb have been the ringleaders for the delta team.
After not having a girl on last year’s inaugural team, there are three this year. In addition to Ornstein, Haylie Hernandez (Minecraft) and Uma Desai (Super Smash Bros.) are also part of the team fabric.
“These are all good kids and good students,” Martinez said. “The seniors are going to really good schools. It defies the stereotype that it takes up all their time. They do their work. They get good grades. Julie and I are really trying to pump up these kids.”
Martinez said the team has been trying to raise its profile around school through the daily bulletin and word-of-mouth.
Martinez said he received six new signups for Overwatch. The team is going to host a school-wide NBA 2K Tournament with prizes for the champion.
“The hype is real,” Martinez said.