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For WHS students, esports is a huge team draw

The burgeoning interest in esports is often portrayed as a way for non-athletes to feel like part of a team. But video gaming is popular among all young people, and athletes too.

WORTHINGTON -- The burgeoning interest in esports is often portrayed as a way for non-athletes to feel like part of a team. But video gaming is popular among all young people, and athletes too.

Mir Gossom, a junior soccer player with Worthington High School, gets a rush on the pitch and in front of a computer playing CS: Go.

“I can be competitive playing esports and I can be competitive in soccer. It’s kind of the same feeling,” he said.

Kind of, but not exactly. The adrenaline flows just a little bit more freely in soccer, he explained, but there’s no denying the sheer enjoyment of CS: Go, a tactical shooter game where you’re tasked with cooperating with teammates like part of a military unit.

Gossom and his teammates on the WHS esports team recently placed 24th out of nearly 70 teams in a national tournament. Despite COVID-19 restrictions that kept them from meeting regularly together, he and his five teammates were able to practice at least three times a week for the October-through-December season. And practice paid off.

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“It’s kind of like that competitive feeling,” Gossom said. “For me it’s really fun to play something competitive and win. For next year, our goal is to qualify for the playoffs.”

Brock Bruns, a star football, basketball and baseball player at WHS, said it’s fun to play esports with other people who are as competitive as him. He likes Rocket League, a soccer-like game with rocket-powered cars, and he also likes to play sports games.

“A lot of people like to play video games. To have a competitive way to do it through the school is pretty awesome,” Bruns said.

William Diaz, a paraprofessional at Worthington High School, volunteered this year to be a coach of the Trojans’ esports team. From just one announcement that esports was being offered, he said, 45 kids became involved in the program’s first season. Not all of the egamers play. Some just like to talk about gaming, he said.

Officially, the team met once a week in-season and logged in from individual homes. Normally, five or six players would sit in one room. The school has yet to set up an official egaming room complete with consoles and computers. But that’s coming, and Diaz expects the number of WHS players to rise.

Popular games include CS: Go, Rocket League, Fortnite, Rainbow, Call of Duty and Super Smash Brothers.

The team aspect, said Diaz, is a huge draw.

“Mainly, I feel that especially in these times, they don’t see each other as much. But they get together and play these games, and they practice for hours. I always remind them, ‘Don’t forget about your grades.’ They casually play and talk. And they talk about anything, too,” said the coach.

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Another Trojan egamer, Aric Schnerstein, favors Super Smash Brothers. He used to play middle school basketball, but today it’s mostly video gaming for him.

Super Smash Brothers is a fighting game with Nintendo characters, and there are different moves for every character. Schnerstein usually plays with a character named Joker, who’s exceptional at mid-air fighting.

Part of the fun of egaming, said Schnerstein, is meeting other games from all over Minnesota.

“You can meet people who have the same interests as you. You can see how good they are, and you can critique the other players. I like critiquing other players, because knowing I can help other players makes me feel really helpful,” he said.

These days, there is extra time to be helpful, extra time to play. COVID-19 isn’t liked by anyone, but believe it or not, there is a positive side to it.

“There’s a lot of people getting extremely good at esports now with the extra time that they have,” said Gossom.

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