In a matter of just a few weeks, ball fields emptied, the track is desolate, and the tennis courts are silent.
Virtually, though, the Baker Bulldogs are strategizing in teams, building structures on Minecraft and surviving a battle royal on Fortnite. In a time where the coronavirus pandemic has halted all things sports, the Baker High Esports team continues to compete and play.
“It’s been a learning experience but it’s been a lot of fun,” said Chris Wittich, who coaches the Baker High School team that started last fall and competes in online video games.
“Most kids didn’t realize this is something they could do in high school,” Wittich said. “We were getting interest all over the place.”
To charter the team, Wittich had to create a relationship with the High School Esports League. Working with over 3,000 different schools across North America and Asia, the league’s help was pivotal in the development of the BHS program, providing the proper equipment to begin playing.
“They were really helpful in getting us set up,” Wittich said. “We signed up through their website, and they helped talk us through everything.”
Building the BHS team came easy for Wittich. As soon as he posted for sign-ups last fall, close to 60 students inquired about joining.
“He (Mr. Wittich) described the aspects of the whole club such as weekly games, practices at the school, and the whole tryout process,” BHS senior Anthony Cowan said. “It definitely piqued my interest.”
Some may question how Esports fits in the world of sports, but although it doesn’t require the same physical preparation as, say, wrestling or basketball, Esports is a mental challenge.
“Esports is a sport that takes a different approach, yet it still has many of the key aspects that other sports provide such as teamwork, strategy, and mental adaptability,” Cowan said.
Though there are thousands of games to choose from, the Bulldogs have focused on several that highlight their strength, including Rainbow Six Siege and Counter Strike Go.
Three players placed in the playoffs for Minecraft this winter. Ian Dinger advanced to the quarterfinals, Zachary Wise to the pre-quarters and Jordan Smith to the preliminary round.
“It was really encouraging, and it was a lot of fun,” Wittich said.
As the entire sports world came to a screeching halt after coronavirus began to spread in February and March, Esports was able to transition. Players can compete from home, although the lack of equipment has made that a challenge.
“At the school, we were provided with a setup that allowed the games to run flawlessly, but at home that is not entirely the case,” Cowan said. “Some people may not have Wi-Fi connections strong enough to allow gameplay, or their PC may not be adequate enough to run the game as smoothly as other setups.”
Now faced in these new times of being socially distant, Wittich knows he will be challenged as a coach, but he wants to encourage players to remain positive as they continue to improve.
“I can’t really observe play anymore,” Wittich said. “The players have to step up and be self-directed.”
He’s also pondering whether the Esports team will compete in more than just the winter season.
“Not sure we are going to go all three seasons during the school year,” Wittich said. “We are definitely taking summer off.”
He’s encouraged about the prospect for adding to the team’s roster in the future.
“I’d like to continue to grow the program, and we’ve had a lot of excitement from junior high kids,” Wittich said. “We got a lot of interest in Esports and people hearing that it was available.”