RIO RANCHO, N.M. — The computer room within the Media Room, or library, at Rio Rancho High School is dark and noisy.
Within are close to two-dozen teen-aged boys engaged in their favorite sport — playing video games; in this case, “Rocket League.”
Bigger, faster, stronger is irrelevant in the newest sport, where home field doesn’t matter, being adopted by the New Mexico Activities Association — with the inaugural season starting Tuesday.
Although considered a sport, like bowling and lacrosse, eSports competition will fall under the label of activities, thus putting it under the wing at Rio Rancho High School of Activities Director Bill Duncan.
Although they won’t be lifting weights and running laps, the RRHS team coach, Michael Mascone, said he’s hopeful of finding some type of physical activity for his team, so they’re not categorized as fat and out of shape.
The varsity — there’ll also be a sub-varsity, he said — will need to maintain a grade-point average of at least 2.0, although he’d prefer a 2.5, with no more than one “F.”
Mascone and assistant coach Daniel Trujillo are veteran video game players, with Mascone — a 2004 grad
uate of RRHS — recalling summer days when he’d be playing games for up to 14 hours.
His is a full plate: He’s the Lead Pro-Star and culinary instructor, as well as the eSports coach and chess club coach.
And, yes, he said, there are Rams who can beat him in chess and some who can beat him in video gaming.
Trujillo, a member of the RRHS Class of 2006, said he’s quite an accomplished player in “League of legends,” among the top 5 percent globally, in fact, but acknowledged there’s a gifted 10-year-old out in cyberspace somewhere that regularly beats him.
Just as age and size don’t matter, neither does gender, when it comes to eSports, although there are far fewer girls vying for spots on the team. Trujillo told of a team in Sweden in which the youngest player is 62 years old and the eldest is 85: “You’re never too young, never too old,” he said.
Here at the high school level, there may be better chances of eSports players going on to that next level than the student-athletes playing football, basketball, volleyball, etc. Nearly 200 colleges in the U.S. and Canada are actively recruiting and offering scholarships for eSports, while companies within the eSports industry are seeking those with experience across multiple aspects of gaming for employees.
eSports was approved as a sanctioned activity under the NMAA umbrella in June 2018 and should engage nearly 500 students in its first year. More than 30 high schools have committed to participate in the 2019 eSports season, which will run through mid-April. The season will culminate with online championships on April 27. Schools and their students will be able to participate in three game titles: “League of Legends,” “Rocket League” and “Smite.”
“We are extremely excited to bring eSports under the interscholastic theme as an NMAA sanctioned activity,” said NMAA Executive Director Sally Marquez. “Gaming has become extremely popular across the country, and now New Mexico students can experience eSports within an educational setting while also competing for a state title.”
NMAA has partnered with PlayVS to serve as its eSports provider and schools will utilize their cutting-edge platform to compete this spring. Coaches will be able to manage team rosters, view match schedules and brackets, as well as track player stats and more through their PlayVS online coach dashboard.
Unlike traditional sports, PlayVS teams can be comprised of any students, without tryouts and regardless of experience, gender or age. There will be no limit to how many unique teams each school can have, which creates a “no-cut” environment and allows all students the chance to compete.
More Information pertaining to high school eSports can be found on the NMAA website at nmact.org/activities/esports/ or directly from PlayVS at playvs.com/.
A lot has yet to be determined, but the state tournament will be held — at a place yet to be determined — April 26-27.
And keep this in mind: The growth of eSports here, as well as around the globe, means someday in the not-too-distant future there’ll be a network devoted to televising eSports.