Dakota High School’s video gamers are now an Esports team to be reckoned with nationally, in addition to earning the trophies, scholarships, and cachet of cool associated with high school sports.
“Most of the students are exposed or have experience with video games. It’s like any sport,” said Vincenzo Bilof, coach of Dakota Esports. “A lot of people watch football, but only a few play it, and in high school, you know, there are a lot of kids who look up to the star quarterback or the point guard, and the same concept applies. more students can play a video game on a casual level, so the appeal among students is more widespread because many of them know the mechanics and the game. some social capital.
Esports has brought a whole new level of athletic competition to high schools nationwide, and the Dakota High School team was recognized on August 9 by USA Today. Ahead of the Fall 2022 High School Esports Rankings, USA Today High School Sports has released a look back at the top Esports teams since 2019, based on global data compiled by PlayVS. Dakota High School was one of the t-17 ranked schools with three championships.
“I received a congratulatory text from colleagues that evening,” Bilof said. “Our district shared the information with all staff when the news broke. Many colleagues reached out to extend their support.
Bilof said Macomb Township’s involvement in esports began in 2017, when he was approached by a group of students about a video game tournament.
“I run an after school gaming club for students to meet and play a variety of video games and board games, so these students in particular thought I would be interested in sponsoring them,” said Biloff.
As a player himself, Bilof said he was interested in coaching to provide more opportunities for students to be part of the school community and develop skills.
“I started to see how valuable the experience was for our students, and it was a program they built on their enthusiasm and dedication,” Bilof said.
The team started with five students and entered their first tournament in 2017 at Lawrence Technological University. As of the 2021-22 school year, the team had grown to 30 students playing various games. Bilof also said that depending on the number of students trying out for a specific game, the team can split into college and junior college.
Esports is open to Dakota students in grades 9-12. Bilof said he doesn’t want students to pay to participate, especially since many leagues and tournaments are free. He also said that for leagues in need of money, the team receives support from the district and becomes self-sufficient through fundraising.
The Cougar team participates in several programs and tournaments. In Michigan, the team is involved in the Michigan High School Esports Federation (MiHSEF) and PlayVS. Nationally, the team competed in tournaments through the Ultimate Gaming Championship (UGC) platform. In the PlayVS league, the school’s “Rocket League” team won a title in fall 2020 and the following spring and fall 2021.
“The PlayVS league has grown tremendously since we started. In our first season we played sixteen other teams, and last season there were at least 64,” Bilof said.
According to Bilof, esports offer various opportunities for seasonal play, depending on the organization. He said the MiHSEF could host games in the fall and change options in the spring. PlayVS has fall and spring seasons, and many organizations offer summer tournaments as well.
Esports team Dakota students play from home, using an app called Discord to communicate through headsets. Coaches also use Discord to monitor their teams. Bilof said the Dakota team plays scheduled games once or twice a week, depending on the league.
“Leagues and tournaments have strict protocols for sportsmanship and actions that take place during play that are considered ‘toxic’ or negative, and when these rare instances occur they are reported to league officials. “Bilof said.
Dakota’s esports team practices at least once a week, but Bilof said students can also set up extra game times as they see fit. Although most students play several times a week, he emphasizes the importance of life outside of video.
“We try to avoid burnout, which can easily occur, and we want to emphasize that students have positive relationships with family and friends while remaining committed to their studies and our school’s code of conduct” , said Bilof.
The team has a captain to help communicate with the other teams. Every video game has different team compositions, and some games don’t use teams, Bilof said. However, he stressed the importance of team spirit to success.
“Communication is important in any sport, but it should never be quiet when one of our matches is being played. It should almost feel chaotic to someone who doesn’t know it,” Bilof said. Many of these teams must coordinate their play as if it were a military unit, with very precise strategies. The mental aspect of gameplay is paramount, so we need to make sure we maintain pro-level communication, which includes cheering on teammates who make a mistake or have a bad game.
Bilof added that Esports helps students learn how to fix technical issues as they arise and teaches the use of tools like hardware and apps. Each year, several Dakota Esports team students have been awarded scholarships. Bilof said that last year alone, three students got scholarships to play for Lawrence Technological University, Oakland University and Davenport University. In addition to the academic benefits, there is a lot of student social status involved in participating in the Esports team, Bilof added.
“Students see the trophies in my room and listen to the announcements and ask questions,” Bilof said. “Our Esports program is viewed in a positive light by the student body and it certainly makes the whole school feel a little more ‘cool’ in their eyes.”