The Nome-Beltz E-sports team competed in their season’s final match last month. Despite having their state championship cancelled by the Alaska School Activities Association (ASAA), the Nanooks, composed of both varsity and junior varsity squads, may have been one of the few sports teams still allowed to compete in the state of Alaska.
For their final match of the fall season, the varsity and JV squads gathered in a classroom after school let out and set up their equipment: computer monitors, controllers, and headsets to communicate with one another. At the time of this event, NBHS had not yet moved into the “RED” zone.
Both Nanook E-sports squads play Rocket League, a game that involves maneuvering a small car and scoring goals with an oversized ball while also defending your own goal. The classic sports elements of offense and defense are present, and the players find that many of the skills developed in-game can be translated to other areas in life.
Varsity player Colin McFarland highlights one in particular.
“A lot of communication, most of our practices are based around being able to communicate better during games and being able to paint pictures… in the other players’ minds of where we are and what we’re doing at that time, so that we can be the most effective on the field.”
– Colin McFarland
The NBHS varsity squad has certainly proven that practice, even in the realm of E-Sports, makes perfect.
“We beat every team this season because we practiced, and we can definitely compete with some of the better teams now, rather than getting beat because we were new to the game.”
– Bode Leeper
That was varsity player Bode Leeper, who has noticed a change in how his fellow students at Nome-Beltz perceive the budding success of E-sports. This is the second year of the team’s existence at NBHS.
“They went from thinking I was just a nerd, it’s just a nerdy sport, to ‘Oh this is kinda cool. They’re winning a lot, they’re having fun, they get to compete. So hey, that’s awesome!’”
– Bode Leeper
In an end-of-season speech to the players, Coach Aaron Blankenship reflected on the growth the team has undergone within the last two years.
“One year ago, we sat here as a group of people who were just waiting for some computers to show up, and they weren’t that good. And we were doing our best to play against some teams who really outmatched us and really had some great strengths. Now, one year later, we have an amazing varsity team that has not lost a single match in the season (Applause). And through their example, they’ve inspired an amazing team of JV players, some of which had never seen the game, and now are winning actual matches against actual schools.”
– Aaron Blankenship
In October, the Nanooks’ season was cut short due to ASAA’s decision to cancel all fall state championships. However, junior varsity player Della Medlin said the added challenge of competing during the coronavirus pandemic did not stand in her team’s way.
“I don’t think COVID really stopped us. We’re still striving. Our varsity team is doing really great. Our JV team has got some bright futures ahead. Can’t really blame COVID because we’re still powering through, doing the right things to stay safe. It’s the only sport that hasn’t shut down so pretty proud of us.”
– Della Medlin
All Nome players and coaches wore masks throughout their final E-sports match.
In addition, Della says, “This hobby has made us all a family, a better team, and builds a relationship at school.”
The importance of such a connection cannot be understated. And for the Nanooks, this notion of family extends to the coaches as well.
Nanook Coaches Aaron Blankenship and Matt Johnson volunteer their time to host practices almost every day after school and help the players with game strategy. JV player Rachel Burgess shared some kind words about the two coaches.
“They’re both lighthearted and very kind and willing to put in so much effort just simply to make us a little bit better at this skill.”
– Rachel Burgess
The Nome E-Sports spring season is scheduled to begin on February 2, 2021 and will run through May.