GAME ON! E-Sports @ HCA
Caleb Christensen-Fletcher, HCA Faculty
While other teams around the country have been benched by the pandemic, it’s game on for the E-Sports team at Harpswell Coastal Academy (HCA). Mathematics teacher and E-sports Coach Caleb Christiansen-Fletcher was inspired to elevate the school’s club to team level last fall during the Covid-19 crisis because it would connect in-school students with those learning remotely, and unite everyone during phases of fully-remote instruction.
The team, which consists of three girls and seven boys, joined PlayVS, a Maine-based platform for state and regional leagues nationwide, and ended last year’s tournament season with high rankings. League of Legends is their game of choice. “It’s becoming one of the biggest E-sports games out there,” says Christiansen-Fletcher. “It has one of the coolest art components and takes forever to master — it’s a really cool head scratcher.” League of Legends consists of an arena where two teams of five players battle in player versus player combat, with each team defending their half of the map. Each of the ten players controls a character, known as a “champion,” with unique abilities and differing styles of play. Champions become more powerful by collecting experience points and purchasing items in order to defeat their opponents. A team wins by pushing through to the enemy base and destroying their “nexus,” a large structure located within it.
Over pizza and informal basketball games, the group has bonded offline as well. They practice at least twice a week and hold post-match huddles where they debrief on upping their game. “Communication was an issue in the beginning,” says Christiansen-Fletcher. “But the students really came together to support and communicate with one another. It was uplifting; they were helping students who had a different skill gap feel like they were part of a team so they would want to succeed.”
The team emulates HCA’s project-based pedagogy as members strategize and problem-solve. “Students have to make a plan and figure out how to execute it,” says Christiansen-Fletcher. “They determine how to advance to the next level; when we have an opponent for an upcoming game we try to figure out who is on that team. There are 150 champions and you can choose to ban certain ones, so members research their opponents to learn who would be their best match.”
Like traditional sports, players hone soft-skills that serve them in life. Students learn the value of negotiation, commitment, teamwork, stress management, and how to fail forward. Contrary to what some people might expect, E-sports are collaborative and interactive rather than solitary. Experts say gaming cultivates empathy. As creators, designers, and planners, students imagine how they would like to be treated and discuss how they might have done something differently, then practice those skills. And there’s buy-in: It’s about voice and choice, experts add. Players build this world, which results in a sense of ownership of a place that’s not refereed by adults.
And as members mingle with students around the country, they learn about other regions while educating their peers about the Pine State. “Players talk before the matches,” says Christiansen-Fletcher. “So we might be facing a team from Georgia and they’ll say, “Wait, you’re from Maine — isn’t that where Stephen King lives?’ ”