VAIL — Glow-in-the-dark snacks and energy drinks are scattered around Vail Mountain School’s technology lab where the GorE-Rangers are competing in their first season as the valley’s first eSports team.
They’re eight VMS Upper School (high school) students and compete in a statewide league. They’re also passionate about more traditional athletic and academic pursuits. Along with Brawlhalla, they play tennis, golf, and basketball. One plays hockey for Battle Mountain High School.
The GorE-Rangers say they learn all the usual stuff they learn in other team activities: teamwork, competition, team spirit, leadership.
“I don’t always take leadership roles in classes, but I feel like this was a real opportunity to step up and lead and it was great to have others looking up to me,” VMS Junior Rav Seller said.
It all began with some of those “What if?” conversations between VMS Technology Director Dean Chambers and Kim Zimmer, the school’s technology department chair. They polled VMS students and found eight enthusiastic students who were ready to make the leap. The team consists of seven boys and senior Andie Billingsley, who says she’s helping break down the gamer stereotype.
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Chambers and Zimmer reasoned that the students love gaming, it’s a multi-billion industry, you can earn college scholarships, and, like so many others things, you can actually make money if you’re good enough.
Chambers decided he didn’t need to reinvent the wheel, and let his fingers do the walking to learn what other schools were doing. He found high school eSports teams all over the country, along with the Mountain Gaming League started by a Ridgway High School teacher.
Like more traditional sports, the GorE-Rangers often play different positions, as they would in soccer or basketball.
“Not everyone was interested in all the games, but given the structure of the matches, we needed a certain number of players to compete in each game,” says Billingsley. “There were kids with interest in Magic the Gathering, which is a strategy game not unlike Hearthstone, and we built interest from there.”
The GorE-Rangers compete in weekly matches that cover five games — Brawlhalla, Heroes of the Storm, Hearthstone, Rocket League and Overwatch. Win enough games and you win the match. Win enough matches and you win the league. In the team’s inaugural season VMS finished sixth in the league overall, and second in Rocket League and fourth in the Brawlhalla League.
A few GorE-Rangers matches drew crowds of interested students, teachers, parents and even some cheerleaders.
They even had to overcome some e-adversity. When a fire alarm went off in the middle of a match, the GorE-Rangers grabbed their laptops, scrambled outside, found some seats on a rock wall and kept playing.
After logging their inaugural season in the books, the GorE-Rangers are already recruiting for next fall’s season.
“We want students to understand teamwork and strategy, experience good coaching, understand how to work with others, and build skills that will serve them well in the years to come,” Upper School Director Maggie Pavlik said.