Esports, short for electronic sports, is a form of competitive video gaming rising in popularity around the world—including in our little corner of Valencia County.
Recently, esports teams from Belen High School and School of Dreams Academy made it to the state playoffs hosted by the New Mexico Activities Association.
The games SODA had teams for at NMAA included Super Smash Bros and Rocket League. SODA also has an Overwatch team, but that game was not included in the NMAA competition. BHS played Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. Each school’s teams were composed of a few students.
For BHS, this was their second year competing competitively in NMAA, and for SODA this was their first year. BHS, in division 4A, played in the first round of the state playoffs but did not win the match for both Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. SODA’s Rocket League team made it to round two of the playoffs, but didn’t progress further.
SODA’s Super Smash team advanced to the state finals in their division, A-2A, which were held in-person in Albuquerque and placed first in their division. The team includes ninth-grader Cristobal Melecio-Silva, tenth-grader Joshua Melecio-Silva, eleventh-grader Zaiah Logan and twelfth-grader Silviano Aguilar as a substitute.
“Being that it’s our first year, I think this is a huge feat,” said SODA esports coach Christopher Stephens. “The students enjoy being in a competitive play environment. I think what they find most valuable is that they are able to play against equally competitive teams.”
Esports is offered both as an elective and after school program at SODA. Stephens said he would like to see more schools get involved as esports comes with a lot of benefits for students.
“It’s a good way to get students engaged and learn something that is sport oriented even if they are not being as physically challenged,” Stephens said. “Competition in any form is good competition. You’re never going to progress if you don’t have competition, and esports is the same way. All the games we play have a competitive mindset.”
Julie Sanchez, a librarian at BHS who coaches the esports team alongside Misty Torres and Robert Carbajal, said esports is something anybody can participate in.
“They don’t have to travel, we always compete from the school unless it’s for the playoffs or finals. Also, because it’s through NMAA the kids have to maintain standards of eligibility, so they keep their grades up,” Sanchez said.
Stephens said esports employs a lot of critical and strategic thinking and problem solving skills and is great for learning how to work with a team. He also emphasized how esports teaches students how to take lessons of failures and apply them to future scenarios.
“To train we do scrimmage type games where we train with other teams in a random environment. We’ll see how we do against them and study the footage. We can record our games and see what the other is doing in terms of strategy,” Stephens said. “We also watch and study clips of better players and have competitions against one another.”
Esports is also a great way to get kids interested in STEM and engaged in career pathways that involve computers, Sanchez said. This year, for example, BHS received $5,000 through the Meta Community Action Grant program to support high school student engagement in Information Technology pathways by providing academic, technical and collaborative skills via competitive esports.
Through the grant, Sanchez said BHS was able to buy ten more Nintendo Switch consoles to expand what they currently offer to include more teams and more games.
“As a young person in esports or playing any video games at all you’re going to start to wonder how these games are made,” Stephens said. “So they might look into the more technical aspect of it in terms of hardware or software. The development side alone is so awesome, you get to learn essential programming skills used in web and software development and more which is going to be worth way more than just video games.”
Sanchez said in the future, she hopes students can take esports as an elective class at BHS and hopes that they can someday have a dedicated gaming lab.
“Gaming is for everybody. Kids can now even get scholarships from gaming,” she said. “The University of New Mexico, New Mexico Tech and New Mexico State all have highly competitive and really talented esports teams.”
“It is the future in terms of video games,” Stephens said. “Seeing the students mature as players and people is really cool. We definitely want to have a team next year. If possible, I would like to have both a junior varsity and varsity team. We’re thinking about expanding it to middle school, but that may not be for a couple years at least.”
Felina Martinez was born and raised in Valencia County. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2021. During her time at UNM, she studied interdisciplinary film, digital media and journalism. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, the School of Dreams Academy and the town of Peralta.