Camas High students create esports club

Group gives video game-loving youth a place to compete

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Camas High School (CHS) students Sage Emberlin (left), Simranjit Bhella (middle) and Conner Brown play "Brawlhalla" at CHS on May 16.

Tomer Dagan has been playing video games for most of his life. He specialized in single-player affairs such as “Minecraft” until he got into middle school, at which point he started to learn more about the competitive gaming scene.

“I was exposed to the larger communities, people that love games as much as (I did),” said Dagan, now a sophomore at Camas High School (CHS). “You start getting addicted to that community. It’s fun. It makes you feel included. It’s as if you have your own clique in the internet world.”

Dagan even met his best friend through gaming.

“We met randomly online, found out that we lived near each other, met in person and now we’ve been friends for seven years,” he said.

That sense of community has motivated Dagan to create an esports club at CHS. The club was officially approved by the Camas School District in February and was accepted into the North American Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF) earlier this month.

“We needed a place in the school where people who like playing games could have a place to hang out and try to get into the competitive scene,” said CHS sophomore Simranjit Bhella, the club’s vice president. “We didn’t really have something like that at Camas High School up until now. We were thinking that it’s important that we try to do something like this. We wanted to take a step and be the first in our area to partner up with this organization and be able to try something new.”

A similar group was formed last year, but it included mostly now-graduated seniors and “didn’t really get off the ground,” according to Dagan, who wanted to create a club that would have a lasting impact and be “open to everybody.”

“Tomer and Simranjit had this idea, this policy, that they wanted (the club) to be really inclusive,” said CHS teacher Jacob Howell, the club’s advisor. “These student leaders are really focusing on fulfilling the mission that we want to have for Associated Student Body clubs – allowing everybody to participate.”

Currently the club members are focused on raising funds to buy computers and other equipment. Lately they’ve been talking about trying to organize a fundraising event in the near future.

“We have 27 members, and almost all of them are ready to compete,” said Dagan, the club’s president. “We have the room. We have the screens. We have the internet. We just don’t have the computers. That’s all we’re missing, and that’s the biggest part. That’s why we’re asking (Camas School District) for $10,000 for next year.”

The NASEF will provide the Camas club with its competition. The team members will play online matches against other federation schools, mostly located in Oregon and California.

The structure of the federation is similar to other sports leagues — there are different “seasons” and championship tournaments for the major games.

“For next year, I want to get the computers, start playing for at least one of the seasons and have maybe smaller games that do not require the computers, such as ‘Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’ on the Nintendo Switch, to compete in,” Dagan said. “By the time I (graduate) I’m hoping it will be a set in stone, self-sufficient club that will have people that understand the world of it.”

The club members are focusing on honing their proficiencies in several of the industry’s most popular games, all eligible for competition in the NASEF, such as “Overwatch” (a first-person shooter), “League of Legends” (a battle arena game), “Hearthstone” (a digital collectible card game) and “Rocket League” (a vehicular soccer game).

“A lot of the games that we have are group games,” Dagan said. “(They) require strategy and thinking ahead. (They’re) easy to pick up, but they take a lot of time and effort to master.”

Most of the club members have been playing games for many years and have learned a variety of skills through gaming. Sage Emberlin, the club’s secretary, said he struggled to master typing in keyboarding classes before acquiring the ability while playing games.

Certain traits are needed to succeed at gaming as well.

“Teamwork skills are important, of course. That’s obvious,” Bhella said. “You need to have good communication skills. When you’re talking to people over the mic or in person while playing a game, you need to be able to let them know what’s happening, what you need, hear what they need, get a grasp of the situation through what they’re saying (to you) or what you’re telling them. You have to be able to recognize things. You need to be able to react quickly (and have good) hand-eye coordination.”

Gamers “have to be able to predict what (their opponents) are doing, just like in any sport,” according to Emberlin.

“Like in football, you have the play and you have to try to execute it,” said Emberlin, a junior. “You have to plan what you’re doing next based on what your opponent’s doing and what he’s doing next, and while you’re making that plan, you also need to be in the moment right now. There’s a lot of thought processes. You have to multitask in order to be successful.”

Esports is one of the fastest growing competitive sports in the world, with professional matches and global tournaments garnering millions of fans who attend in person or watch online via apps such as Twitch.

According to research from Newzoo, a global provider of esports marketing and analytics, competitive gaming revenue is expected to surpass $1 billion in 2019, creating a lucrative market for not only the players, but for brands and video game producers as well.

“It opens up so many different opportunities,” Howell said. “The video game industry is absolutely blowing up. If you don’t become a professional video game player, you can still find one of thousands of different careers inside video games. It’s huge.”