Kenai Central High School esports players participate in a practice match of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate ahead of a scheduled game at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Esports back with new games, players

High school esports, in Alaska and locally in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, are growing. More games are being played and more students are getting involved.

At a practice on Wednesday, Kenai Central High School coach Matthew Cross said 22 students are registered this season, the second season played this school year.

“The kids are starting to realize that esports is actually a thing,” he said.

KCHS senior Kage Adkins, one of the team captains, said growing esports at Kenai is something that he’s put a lot of effort into, and that he wants to see the esports program be a reason a student chooses to attend KCHS over another school.

“This means everything to me,” he said.

Part of the growth is because of the increase in games being offered, according to Cross. He said this season KCHS is fielding teams in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Madden NFL, which none of the KPBSD schools participated in last season.

He said that PlayVS, the service that partners with the Alaska School Activities Association for all esports programming, has begun adding support for some school-appropriate first-person-shooter titles like Overwatch 2 and Splatoon 3, and hopes to see those games added to the roster in future seasons.

Across the district, KCHS, Soldotna High School, Nikiski Middle/High School and Seward High School field esports programs.

Cross said that PlayVS makes it easy to add teams and games, as long as they have the players interested in getting involved. Last year, Kenai fielded four teams, two in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and one each for League of Legends and Rocket League. This year, Kenai is fielding four Smash teams, one Madden, one Mario Kart.

KCHS has officially registered a League team, but team captain Silas Thibodeau, a KCHS senior, said the interest isn’t there from last year’s players, who finished second in the state last season. The team took a forfeit in their first game this week. Thibodeau said that if he can’t wrangle four players by next week, the team will be disqualified automatically by its second forfeit.

Most of Kenai’s focus is on the four Smash teams, Cross said, which the vast majority of the registered students are involved in. Each team features three players, who will compete in best of three one-on-one matches.

Smash is a platform fighting game featuring a colorful cast of characters from across a wide variety of video games. It features characters from Mario, the Legend of Zelda, Street Fighter, Kingdom Hearts and more. Players don’t fight to reduce their opponent’s health to zero, they fight to knock their opponent off the stage.

Adkins, who led Kenai’s Smash team to the state championship semifinals last season, said his goal is to win this year.

“We want number one.”

Cross said they have a “very good chance,” and also that the other three Smash teams have a similar chance of pushing them for it.

A priority for Adkins is that motivation stays high and no one becomes discouraged.

Kenai’s team features largely even distribution of freshmen through seniors, Cross said.

“Most of them didn’t know each other until they came together in here,” Cross said. “You see in the hallways during the day, you see them starting to have that camaraderie and that kinship amongst each other.”

Cross said that bond is something developed in sports, especially between under and upperclassmen. Some of the students in the esports program haven’t had that, Cross said.

“Now they get it here, and that’s been huge,” he said.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

Esports Week 1 Results

League of Legends

Kenai forfeited due to a lack of players. One more forfeit will disqualify them from state contention.

SoHi was swept by Mat-Su Central School Black, last year’s state champions. They fall to 0-1 and tied at sixth in the league with the other teams who lost their first match.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Three of Kenai’s teams won their matches, while the fourth had a bye.

Kenai 2, which features Silas Thibodeau, Landon Dubber and Cavan Swanson, swept Delta Junction Senior High School 2, and are tied at the top of the league. Kenai 3 and Kenai 1 are ninth and 10th respectively, both winning their games 2-1 over Service High School C and Chugiak High School.

Nikiski had a bye week, and Seward topped West Anchorage High School 2-1 to land 11th in the rankings behind Kenai 3 and 1.

Rocket League

SoHi had a bye week.

Results are not yet available for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or Madden NFL. A representative of PlayVS said that this was because they are played in regional leagues instead of statewide leagues. The Clarion is pursuing a method for obtaining these results for future coverage.

Kenai Central High School esports players participate in a practice match of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate ahead of a scheduled game at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Eli Castro, Blake Gillis and Kaizen Fuller participate in a practice battle ahead of a scheduled game of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai Central High School esports players participate in a practice match of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate ahead of a scheduled game at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Eli Castro, Blake Gillis and Kaizen Fuller participate in a practice battle ahead of a scheduled game of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai Central High School esports players participate in a practice match of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate ahead of a scheduled game at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion 
Eli Castro, Blake Gillis and Kaizen Fuller either celebrate victory or cry out in defeat at the end of a practice match of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate played ahead of a scheduled game at Kenai Central High School on Wednesday.

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion Eli Castro, Blake Gillis and Kaizen Fuller either celebrate victory or cry out in defeat at the end of a practice match of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate played ahead of a scheduled game at Kenai Central High School on Wednesday.

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