JEFFERSON — In the last few years, esports has exploded onto the scene as the team video game competition makes its way into area high schools as a new extracurricular offering.
In its first full year of existence, Jefferson High School’s esports team has had a similarly explosive rise. This past week, the school’s varsity Super Smash Bros. team clinched the Division 2 regular season championship, earning a berth at the state competition December 14.
Fort Atkinson finished second in the standings with a 6-2 record behind Jefferson.
The school’s Overwatch team also has a high seed going into its competition December 4 and has a good chance of going to state as well, said esports advisor Jason Marin.
Jefferson currently has a 6-1 record and is in second place behind Baraboo (8-0) in the Overwatch standings. Fort Atkinson is in fifth place in the Overwatch standings with a 3-4 record.
The Jefferson Super Smash Bros. team had its division championship match Tuesday, and due to technical difficulties wound up extending competition into Wednesday, winning 3-2 and earning a state berth.
The state competition will take place at Madison College.
Marin, who teaches computer science, game design and coding at Jefferson High School as well as serving as esports advisor, said that esports brings together a lot of unique talents from a variety of backgrounds and helps to build teamwork among members.
“It’s a place where kids who haven’t been a part of something bigger can be involved,” he said.
Marin credited twins Jacob and Jesse Brawders with coming up with the idea for the club. He said the twins approached him last year to ask if he would serve as advisor for the new club.
“The Brawders boys, J.R. Ley, and Zach Donnelly ran wild trying to get the club and technology up and running,” Marin said
“Even with their efforts, the season was almost canceled,” Marin said. “But our amazing IT department, principal (Steve) Dinkel, Ms. (Dena) Smith, Mr. (William) Beil, and Mr (Cory) Klecker all helped to make this opportunity happen. It was really impressive how it all unfolded.”
Marin said due to his existing responsibilities as a cross country coach, he could not take as much of an active role as he wanted to, but other staff members stepped forward to help out. Great credit goes to the student organizers of the club, who have really taken the bull by the horns to assure that this opportunity remains open to students, he said.
Jacob Ley, one of the co-founders of the Jefferson High School esports club and team captain for the Varsity Overwatch team, said he began researching high school esports two years ago after learning that nearby schools had teams.
“Jesse Brawders shares my passion for esports and together we formed this new club at Jefferson High School,” Ley said. “The initial response from our classmates was overwhelming. After announcing the club at a school assembly, nearly 100 students expressed interest in joining,” he said.
The club holds regular meetings, fielding junior varsity and varsity teams that compete through the WIHSEA,” Ley said.
This semester, teams are competing in two games — Overwatch and Super Smash Bros.
“Our Super Smash Bros Varsity team clinched first place for Division 2 and have qualified for the state tournament. The Varsity Overwatch team that I compete on has also had a great season so far,” Ley said. “We are second in Division 2 with stats of 7-1. My team has to win an upcoming game for us to go to the state tournament. I am so proud of all the players on our teams, and I am so happy for all of the support our club has gotten.”
Alex Vogel, a member of the Varsity Overwatch team, said he joined the the esports club because he wanted to play at a higher level.
“I really enjoy the club because everyone has fun and appreciates the game,” he said. “If we go to state, win or lose, it would be great for the club.
Jahson Granado-Malone, who plays on the varsity Super Smash Bros. team, said joining this club has given him an opportunity to meet a bunch of amazing people and make a few new friends. Practice and competition have proved highlights of his school week.
Jesse Brawders, club co-founder, serves as advisor for the Super Smash Bros team and coach for the Varsity Overwatch team.
“Joining the club has been amazing, seeing the success of both teams and how much everyone loves the esports scene,” he said.
“Personally, it is a dream come true to see about 40-50 students who care about the club come to our regular meetings,” Jesse said, “It makes all of the hard work Jacob and I have done over the last few months worth it.”
The club has also fostered friendships between upperclassmen and underclassmen who might never have talked with one another otherwise, he said.
Zach Donley, who plays for the JHS Varsity Overwatch team, said that being part of the esports team has taught him how to cooperate with others, even when they have opposing ideas.
“As with other sports, leadership and cooperation are very important,” Donley said. “We found this out the hard way after our first game, which was a loss, but since then we’ve cleaned things up and haven’t had a loss since. I feel like we can still improve before the state competition but we definitely have come a long way.”
Jacob Klingler, another member of the JHS Varsity Overwatch team, said he joined this club primarily to have a good time with people who enjoy video games as much as he did.
“I didn’t think that I was going to be on the varsity team, but I was super excited to compete,” he said.
“If we do make it to state or win state, it would be a major accomplishment since it is our first year,” Klingler said. “All I really want is to bring more recognition to esports as a whole and solidify esports as a club that kids can enjoy next year after we have graduated.”
Ashten Krening, a Super Smash Bros. competitor, said playing with the team has been a great experience. Being encouraged and cheered on has provided added inspiration to help him do his best.
“As with everything, practice makes perfect,” he said. “You get better even if you lose.”
Jacob Brawders, part of the varsity Overwatch team, also helps run the club.
“I love the atmosphere that we have during matches and even during the meetings,” Jacob Brawders said.
“You can tell most if not all the people there are passionate for this club and want to see it grow,” he said. “I have had lots of fun getting to know different play styles with teammates and learning how to better communicate with each other, which can be the most important part of the entire game.
“I am looking forward to the possibility of going to the state event and winning the Division 2 title,” Jacob Brawders continued. “We have a real shot alongside the Smash Bros. team and it’s great that we’ve been able to do this the first year of running the club.”
Payton Morgan, a member of the varsity Overwatch team, said he was thrilled to find an extracurricular he truly enjoys participating in.
“It has helped me meet a lot of great people that we have played with and against,” he said.
Brody Bredlow, a member of the varsity Smash team, said he enjoys the club’s competitive nature, which has allowed him to take an activity he already enjoyed to a new level.
Hunter Dow, another Smash team member, said joining the club has brought me closer to his teammates.
“Esports is my favorite club,” he said. “I think others should join as well. It is a fun experience.”
The club also has its dedicated spectators, including Jarod Dehnert, who regularly comes to watch and cheer his peers on.
“It’s fun, exciting, and awesome all around,” Dehnert said.