HELENA — At East Helena High School you’ll find a group of students that hate the light. Not because they’re vampires, but because it causes glare on their screens. In room 290 you’ll find newspapers taped to the windows to block the sun, and the Vigilante esports team.
East Helena has two Valorant teams, varsity and JV, one Halo Infinite team, and some kids who play Minecraft Survival Games solo. They also have a Smash Ultimate team that plays on the Nintendo Switch.
Like your typical sports teams, they hold tryouts. Head coach Marne Bender says that things like reaction time, strategy and aim are all observed and noted during tryouts.
Wednesday's match was between the Valorant JV team, and the Varsity Smash Ultimate team. The Smash Ultimate team played the Western School of Science and Technology in Phoenix, AZ. The Valorant team played Coos Bay, Oregon.
They currently pay to participate in the High School Esports League and PlayVS, both which are national high school esports leagues. Currently, Montana does not sanction esports through MHSA.
Smash Bros player, Leighla Schultz, says that being able to play against other kids across the nation is “absolutely crazy.”
Bender’s wish is that soon the team will be sanctioned through MHSA.
“We’re hoping that some day MHSA will include esports and so we can have the Fortnite Champion of Montana, or whatever, that’s my hope,” she said.
Not only does the team have gamers, but they also have a student-based tech squad to help if things go awry during matches. They’ve also had students design logos, and help with social media and streaming.
The club team is able to inspire the students to explore a variety of avenues that can help them later in life. Like MHSA sanctioned sports, Bender has implemented a GPA requirement of a 2.5 or higher for her team, and she has since seen improvement in her students’ grades.
With all of the amazing benefits of this team comes a lot of equipment, and some pretty hefty costs.
Bender told MTN that a gaming setup that could keep up with what her students do is around $2,000. The team currently has five complete sets, leaving them out of six-player games that other schools participate in.
“Our primary means of acquiring new equipment, which increases in cost every day, is through generous donations from parents and local organizations,” Brandon Hansen, Technology Director of the East Helena School District said.
The donations have all become worth it because of how it’s helped with the students’ development. Like with traditional sports the students learn teamwork, communication, strategy, and resolving conflict.
Casey Geren, a 7th grade social studies teacher at East Helena, says he’s glad that his students are able to experience the same things one would in traditional sports, without having to physically play a sport.
“Community and that team feeling that they have is amazing. I’m glad they have that here at school,” he said.