Mark Deppe (left) stands with the La Quinta High School League of Legends team after an exciting exhibition match.
On Thursday, November 15th, 2018, the Orange County Esports Arena in Santa Ana, California proudly hosted Esports Night with NASEF (North America Scholastic Esports Federation,) a mixer dedicated to fostering community and interest in esports in Orange County. NASEF’s mission is to develop opportunities for students to utilize the esports environment as a tool to learn communication, teamwork, and problem-solving skills, and Esports Night with NASEF was one such opportunity. The mixer functioned as a chance, not only for players to network with educators and professional esports sponsors, but for educators to learn more about esports as a whole and develop an understanding of the growing industry as it relates to education.
Some of NASEF’s primary partners are the Samueli Foundation, UCI Esports, UCI Samueli School of Engineering, UCI Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences, the Orange County Department of Education, and the OC STEM Initiative. In turn, many of the educators who were present at the event were UCI and Orange County professors and faculty members from various STEM fields. However, NASEF’s outreach and influence didn’t extend solely to local high school and university campuses- STEM faculty from all over the country could be found in attendance at the mixer. At one point during the night, our media team was informally approached by Barbara Brody from Oregon State University’s STEM extension program, who was interested in learning about esports and how it could foster team building and leadership skills in students. Brody was intrigued by the nature of the main event and wanted to learn more about both the titles that were considered esports and the players who played them.
The main event in question was the best-of-one League of Legends exhibition match played between La Quinta High School and Fountain Valley High School’s esports teams. Fountain Valley had previously won the inaugural championship season of NASEF’s high school League championships- the organization was known then as Orange County High School Esports League. This was also something of a grudge match for the two schools, as Fountain Valley had previously defeated the higher seeded La Quinta team in order to secure the championship. After a grueling match with several shifts in back-and-forth momentum, La Quinta’s team was able to score a victory in the runback at Esports Night with NASEF.
Before and after the League exhibition match, UCI Esports’ own Program Director and NASEF Commissioner Mark Deppe held interviews and introductions to several special guests involved with esports development. From La Quinta, assistant principal Adrian Lucero, Esports Club general manager Terry Nguyen, and Ryan McKernan spoke on how having an esports presence on campus developed a stronger sense of community between both students and staff. McKernan also thanked UC Irvine and the Samueli Foundation for fostering the growth of the esports program on campus. After La Quinta’s team was presented with their trophy for winning the show match, Deppe invited families from the high schools, as well as UCI Esports’ own League support-role player and former pro player Lyubomir “Bloodwater” Spasov, on stage to talk about esports and its role in education and curriculum.
As the discussion was centered on student-family interactions regarding esports, Spasov began with an anecdote about convincing his own parents of the validity of esports as a part of his education and career path. “My parents weren’t really supportive at first, because they didn’t really know what I was getting into- and I also didn’t know what I was getting into.” When Spasov decided to return to school after his pro League career, his go-to choice for higher education was UC Irvine. His parents became more supportive of him as he continued to play for UCI Esports’ League team once they learned of the scholarship opportunities available to him. “I had put in the work into League of Legends and becoming good before [playing for UCI Esports] and that’s pretty much one of the main reasons why my parents were convinced into letting me play League of Legends and becoming more supportive.” The families of the Fountain Valley high school students also echoed the sentiment with similar statements, noting that fostering their child’s interest in esports was able to develop the rest of their academic interests in turn. When Deppe asked the guests what advice they would give to faculty developing high school or collegiate esports programs, Spasov recommended establishing a business model that would start small and allow the existing on-campus esports community to thrive. The families also suggested that parents of high school and college players “keep an open mind” and remember that esports can develop the same team-building and strategizing skills that physical sports encourage.
An interview conducted with the members of the La Quinta High School League team was also centered around similar themes of the coexistence of school curriculum and esports. Randy “iFalse” Chung, the midlaner for the school’s team, spoke to our content team about his history with esports and how it related to his academic career. “I started off playing console games like Call of Duty,” Chung explained. “I realized I was pretty decent at that, and then when I got my first computer, I started playing first-person shooters like Combat Arms, and [Counter-Strike: Global Offensive] too. Then once I picked up League of Legends in the start of middle school, I started off Bronze IV and that was pretty demoralizing, but within one season I climbed all the way to Diamond I. So that’s when I realized I had potential in esports. I’ve always played sports too, so esports was a good combination of gaming and sports. I think it’s really awesome to able to play for a high school team.” Chung credited the fact that his existing academic career is already very excellent as a main reason why he is able to balance studying, athletic sports, and esports so well. This also plays into his own role as the midlaner and team captain of the La Quinta High League team: “Because of [my good GPA,] my parents didn’t really care if I played games or not as long as I did well in school. I guess that really translates into me being a shotcaller and the captain of the team. I’m really organized and make sure I do my work first, and then it’s gaming after.” Chung is currently a first year at California State University of Long Beach. When asked if he would continue his esports career beyond playing for La Quinta, Chung responded: “For now, I’m playing on the CSULB Fortnite team, and hopefully I can get somewhere with that. But if not, I can always return to League. I’m trying to focus more on League next season.”
Esports Night with NASEF was an entertaining and educational event that provided its attendees with insight into how this growing industry can be beneficial to both faculty and students. The talks and interactions at the mixer were a perfect environment to promote NASEF’s core values: learning, opportunity, community, diversity, and respect. By giving students a chance to develop real-world values and connect the skills they learn in gameplay to their education, it provides them with a deeper understanding of their curriculum. NASEF has succeeded in building a rich community of thoughtful, connected players and educators who have a place to interact with each other and develop a unique culture within esports.
Interview with Randy “iFalse” Chung: Gianeen Almaria
Photos: Riley Okumura, Jiawei Li
Further editing and photos: Alice Lee