Phillips High School is in the game

Pictured is the Phillips E-Sports team, from left, River Poe, Mason Overton, Hunter Brewer, Daven “Dave-O” Smith, Tiden Butler, Aaron Grammer, E-Sports Coach Lucas Johnson, Wyatt Holbrook, Luke Alexander, Aidan Young and Maddi Donaldson. Not pictured is Zach Farr.

BEAR CREEK — Phillips High School’s first E-Sports team is up and running under teacher and E-Sports Coach Lucas Johnson this year.
Johnson, who attended UNA in Florence, took over the role of E-Sports coach after being chosen by Principal Al Temple.
Johnson stated Temple had an E-Sports program up and running before handing the reigns over to Johnson.
“I play video games in my off-time, but I’ve never done it competitively. I was still interested in it, and I have some connections with my old classmates from UNA who are involved in their E-Sports programs,” said Johnson.
“We’ve been trying to get it off the ground.”
Johnson stated the program has run into some setbacks as he tries to build the E-Sports team at Phillips.
Access to equipment and finding time to practice were among the major issues facing the team throughout this year.
“Can kids get access to the equipment, can kids practice at home or during the school day, what’s the competition going to look like?--things like that (have been issues),” he said.
“I think we are planning on getting some stuff done over the summer to rectify that.
“The first big set back was (figuring out) how we were going to get these kids to practice these games and how they were going to be able to have these practices regularly,” he continued.
“Out here, especially in rural areas like you see around the county, a lot of kids don’t have internet access at home. If they do have it, it’s not always reliable, or they don’t have access to the necessary equipment or games that we compete with. There are a lot of resource based snags that we keep running into.”
Johnson has a team of nine students currently in his E-Sports program, a number he hopes grows throughout the next few years.
“Growing will help us out in competition. (Growing) means that’s more games that we can play and that’s more days that we can compete,” he said.
The team mainly competes by playing games such as Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, a  very famous game in competitive gaming competitions.
Johnson stated the Nintendo fighting game is one his team competes well in.
“That seems to be what we excel at. We have a couple of kids who are really good from what I’ve seen,” he said.
Aside from equipment and practice complications, Johnson also stated the team needs to raise funds to compete.
“Every kid who would like to participate has to come up with $80 in order to pay for their seat to play,” he said.
“We are going to talk about summertime fundraising. We are going to appeal to local businesses and see if any of them would like to help out.”
Johnson said he also plans to have a t-shirt designed for the team to sell in order to raise funds.
“We have so few students who want to compete at this stage. Hopefully, we’ll have more next year. It’s only about $300 total cost that we have to clear this year,” said Johnson.
Johnson emphasized playing on the team is more than playing video games as he holds his players to a specific standard every year.
“The biggest thing that I keep coming back to is that this is more than just kids playing video games for an hour or two a day,” he said.
“There are academic and behavioral requirements.”
Johnson stated he makes students sign a contract stating they will maintain a C average or higher as well as having no office referrals  at the cost of being removed from the team.
Johnson stated while playing E-Sports is fun for students to enjoy, E-Sports athletes have a chance to earn scholarships from playing on the team.
“In just the state alone, there was over $12 million given in scholarships last year. Huntington and UAH are actively supplying scholarships for E-Sports participants,” he said.
He also stated colleges such as UNA like to recruit locally for their teams.
Johnson stated E-Sports could also open the door to jobs in the video gaming field, such as game design.
He also emphasized that the program gives a chance for students who cannot compete in physical sports to compete in a program they enjoy.
“I think the more you look into it and learn about these programs and what they offer, the more selling points there are,” he said.
“Not every kid is going to be a fantastic athlete and not every child is going to excel enough academically to get a scholarship. For those kids, if they are good enough at games like Rocket League or Madden, there is still a collegiate pathway for them.”
Johnson stated video gaming is looked at very differently now compared to how it was viewed in the past.
“When I was growing up, there was a stigma about kids who liked video games a little too much. They were nerdy and they were ostracized almost. If you weren’t involved in athletics, you were kind of looked on as an outcast,” he said.
“This is a chance for that mindset to be erased. I want every student to have the ability and the opportunity to pursue the hobbies that interest them in an academic setting where they’re going to benefit from it.”


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