Alaska high school esports came to a close this week. The state championship League of Legends match between Kenai Central and Mat-Su Central ended in a defeat for the Kenai Kardinals, but the players emerged looking to the future, with another season starting in around a month — affording more time to gain experience and another opportunity to make a run for the title.
League of Legends
Ahead of the Tuesday title match, the Kardinals were in high spirits. They completed their pregame rituals, including marching outside to touch grass in reference to an internet culture joke commanding gamers to reconnect with reality — difficult through 2 feet of fresh fallen snow.
In the minutes leading up to the start, they played warmup matches and tried to stay loose.
League of Legends makes a wealth of information available about other players and other matches, so the Kardinals had studied up on the Mat-Su players they would be facing, as well as the unusual strategies that the team had used in their previous match to make it to the finals.
Coach Shane Lopez told his players to be proud of their progress and to commit themselves to each other’s ideas and strategies.
“Not many get to play these games. You guys earned it,” he said. “Go all in, we win together, we lose together.”
The first match opened strong for Kenai. Roman Dunham fell early, but he managed to make up the deficit by coming back and scoring a solo kill on a Mat-Su player.
At the same time, the other Kenai players grouped up and slayed the first dragon in the jungle — the wilderness between the three lanes that make up the main play space — without Mat-Su realizing they were working on the target.
That momentum was lost when a lost team fight put Mat-Su ahead in the killfeed at 3-1. The Kardinals never again managed to reclaim control of the map, and called a forfeit to end the first game when the killfeed read 14-3.
At that time, tensions were riding high.
In the second match, Mat-Su again managed to own the map and shut down the Kardinals, claiming the big-ticket monsters in the jungle and moving as a pack to cut down Kenai’s midlane and jungle players: Cody Good and Roman Dunham. That pack strategy was the same one they used to success against Anchorage Christian Schools in the semifinal.
As the power curve shifted almost irreparably toward Mat-Su — who, by getting more kills were getting more powerful to the point Kenai couldn’t respond — the Kardinals attempted to save the match by leaning on their top lane, where Jackson Anding had been working almost entirely undisturbed by the opposition.
A lost team fight up top sealed the Kardinals’ fortunes and sent them home as the second best team in the state — the first team from the Kenai Peninsula to make a state final.
League team captain and senior Silas Thibodeau said that he was disappointed, but that a second place finish for a team with lots of fresh faces was something of which to be proud. They’ll be back next season with even more time to practice.
“I’m feeling down because we didn’t win, but I’m feeling hopeful for next year,” he said.
Time is the biggest thing Thibodeau said the team needs. He and Good have been playing League of Legends for less than a year, some of the other players have been playing for only a few months. Stats available on their Mat-Su opponents show that they’ve got years of experience.
“It comes with the experience of playing a lot of games that you understand, ‘Hey, this is gonna happen and we need to go here.’ It’s just learning the game itself,” he said.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Kenai’s Smash Team 1 saw its playoff run concluded Monday in a semifinal match against Service High School. The game was scheduled for Thursday, but inclement weather in Anchorage delayed the game.
Schools policy was for no after-school activities on snow days, but the teams made the match happen Monday ahead of Wednesday’s scheduled title match.
Smash team captain Kage Adkins said that the squad was faced with some unlucky matchups in terms of selected fighters. In Smash, over 100 characters can be played, and they are not all created equal — they have different skill sets and playstyles.
Adkins — described by his teammates as Kage “Little Mac” Adkins — was bringing the boxer Little Mac to many of his fights even though he’s largely considered a lower-tier character.
Adkins said focusing on the character was part of a goal of making Smash inviting to the newcomers on the team — anyone can play any character to success.
“We’re just there to have fun and prove that no matter the character, you can still take it all the way,” he said.
When Adkins’ Little Mac came face to face with a Ness — a child with magic powers and a baseball bat — he was facing a less than ideal matchup.
Teammate Cody Good faced a similar challenge — his Diddy Kong isn’t a great pick against the Hero that Service brought. They fell 0-2 to Service, who moved to the title match against Hutchison High School.
“The truth is that those matchups do matter a lot,” Adkins said. “They were also very good, I’m not gonna blame it on that.”
Kenai had two teams qualify for the playoffs, with Smash Team 2 being eliminated last week after battling it out with the Hutchison, the top-ranked team in the state. Adkins said he was proud of the Kards’ performance, saying they were showing “amazing development” and “already showing up in tournaments.”
“They’re doing way better than I was when I first started, if they stick with it through all these years, they’re gonna be monsters,” he said.
As a senior, next season will be Adkins’ last. He said his eyes are firmly set on the title next season — no more fun off-meta picks.