Kenai Central High School Esports players Landon Dubber and Blake Gillis play against one another in the Alaska Fall 2023 semifinals for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska, on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Central High School Esports players Landon Dubber and Blake Gillis play against one another in the Alaska Fall 2023 semifinals for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska, on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Esports: Kenai advances to state final

In the first week of playoffs for fall esports in Alaska, Soldotna and Nikiski saw their seasons brought to a close in quarterfinal matches, while Kenai is sending at least one team to the finals after two of its teams were forced to play one another for the opportunity.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Kenai Central sent two teams to the state playoffs, at the second and fifth seeds. Kenai 1, the second seed, advanced to the semifinals with a sweep of Thunder Mountain High School, and Kenai 2 took a hard won 3-2 win over Nikiski Middle-High School, reversing a loss the Kards took to the Bulldogs with the same score on Nov. 1.

Though the two teams started on opposite sides of the bracket, Kenai coach Shane Lopez explained Thursday that PlayVS, the host service partnered with the Alaska State Activities Association for esports in Alaska, requires teams from the same school to play one another in the semifinals, preventing a final match between two teams from one school.

It was PlayVS regulation that prevented Kenai’s third squad, the eighth ranked team in the state, from participating in the playoffs for the same reason.

That’s why the semifinal match came down to Kenai 1 battling Kenai 2 on Thursday. Kenai 1’s Blake Gillis, Eli Castro and Kaizen Fuller swept their teammates, Kenai 2’s Landon Dubber, Kai Adkins and Boyd Lehmberg. Dubber, playing as King Dedede, was the only member of his team to take a round off Gillis’ Mario and the Kardinals’ first squad.

Kenai 1 will advance to the state final on Thursday, playing top seed Lathrop High School. The Malamutes defeated Kenai 1 on Oct. 19 in a match that went all five rounds. Lathrop was undefeated until the final week of the regular season, when Kenai 2 topped the Malemutes with a 3-1 victory.

Fuller said Thursday that he was a little nervous about tangling with Lathrop again, but that they were prepared to run a different team composition to see a more favorable outcome in the rematch. He said that in the October game, he had played into a poor matchup, which led to the loss.

“I believe we have a good chance to take it home,” he said.

Soldotna’s Aanson Clark, Jax Nash and Lee Downing entered the playoffs at the eighth seed. They were eliminated by Lathrop in the quarterfinal match on Tuesday, but took a point off the top ranked team for a 3-1 final score.

Rocket League

Soldotna High School, entering the California Region playoffs at the sixth seed, was swept by Washington’s Bishop Blanchet High School, the third seed, in a quarterfinal match on Tuesday.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

Kenai Central’s Lehmberg, Alex Kahn, Raymond Wilkie and Gillis entered the Coastal Region playoffs as the third seed. They topped Hawaii’s Henry Perrine Baldwin High School on Wednesday 2-1 to advance to the semifinal, which was scheduled to be played on Friday against President William McKinley High School, also of Hawaii. The Kardinals were swept by McKinley on Nov. 2, but if they win, they’ll move to the region final on Thursday.

Both Nikiski Middle-High School and Soldotna High School were swept by teams from Hawaii’s Kauai High School. Nikiski’s Levi and Lorelai Kimbell, Joey Nightingale and Braden Brigham entered the playoffs at the eighth seed and were bested by top seed Kauai 1. Soldotna’s Aidarenee Lipps, Clark, Nash and Downing entered the playoffs at the fifth seed and fell to fourth seed Kauai 2.

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

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