SHELDON—Sheldon High School hit the start button on an esports button this academic year.
It’s an idea that’s been in the back of Clint Badberg’s mind for a while.
About eight years ago, Badberg helped start a after-school game club which focused on Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons, and other tabletop board games.
“It’s always been in the back of our minds, like let’s do esports, but we didn’t know where to go with that,” he said. “How do we acquire the machines and the coaching and all of that. It just kind of came organically after that where it was like ‘OK, there’s a need for this.’”
Over the past couple of years, everything started to fall into place for Badberg, who is a volunteer coach and an instructional associate at the high school. Toby Maggert, who is a computer science and math teacher at the high school, is the designated esports coordinator. Updated computers were added to the industrial technology room and an anonymous donor purchased Nintendo Switches and headsets for the program.
While esports is a new concept to high schools in N’West Iowa, Badberg is no stranger to video games. Badberg’s son, Thomas, is a student at Dakota State University in Madison, SD, and the two connect nightly online to play “Deep Rock Galactic.”
“It gives me a great opportunity to communicate with him and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on? How are classes?’” Badberg said. “It’s very healthy for us to communicate that way.”
Maggert grew up playing video games and when he was in college, he played some mobile games competitively and reached the top 100 in the world in two different games — “Marvel’s Contest of Champions” and “Marvel’s Future Fight.”
“Contests especially, I got really, really into it,” Maggert said. “One time there was a tournament, and I think I placed 29th in the world. I was pretty happy with that. There was a major challenge, and if you won, you got on the leader board. I was the 158th person to beat that challenge. At the time, it had like 35 million users or something like that.”
With the main components in place, the esports program needed one more thing — competitors.
Those were easy to find as 44 students originally signed up to play at the beginning of the school year. However, the number has been whittled down a bit because there are different seasons. “Rocket League” was played during the Iowa High School Esports Association winter season.
“Rocket League” is a three-on-three soccer match, but instead of people, cars hit a giant ball with the objective to get it into the opposing team’s net.
“It’s very fast paced with a short duration,” Badberg said. “The matches get through in five minutes unless it goes into overtime, which is sudden death. The current setup is best of five, so it’s very similar to volleyball.”
Home teams set up the matches. For “Rocket League,” that means picking out the arena, time limits and how to get connected to the match. The coach then sends the information to the opposing coach through Discord, which is a popular messaging system.
Not all 44 students were up for playing “Rocket League” since some were more interested in a other games that will be offered during other seasons.
Sheldon’s varsity roster for “Rocket League” features five members — junior Melanie Marshall, sophomores Juan Rodriguez, A.J. Lyons and Christian Richards and freshman Aaron Uitdeflesch. The junior varsity roster also has five members — seniors David Wiersma and Justice Goslinga, sophomores Connor Murphy and Ashton Uitdeflesch and freshman Ethan Vogelaar.
“Most of our kids that are freshmen and sophomores; they have pretty high skill levels,” Badberg said.
Murphy said he enjoyed the “Rocket League” season.
“Me and my friends found out about it, and we all play video games outside of school, and we thought it would just be another fun thing to do together,” said Murphy, who is the captain of the junior varsity team. “It started off with about three or four other people, and now it feels like I’ve become friends with everybody in the room, which is a huge plus.”
He added his parents think it is good he is getting involved with another club at school.
Playing in the IAHSEA allows Sheldon to play schools from around the state instead of just going against Siouxland Conference schools. While Sheldon’s varsity match on Thursday was against Okoboji, others have been against schools as far away as Boyer Valley High School in Dunlap or Tri-Center High School in Neola. The junior varsity played Central Decatur High School near Leon earlier in the season.
“That was kind of cool that we were able to have these matches with schools on the other side of the state,” Badberg said. “There’s no travel so you can do it in about 30 to 40 minutes.”
“Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege” was the most popular game students wanted to play and is offered by the fall season by the IAHSEA. But Badberg and Maggert were not fully set up in the fall and the game is rated M, which means the contest is generally more suitable for ages 17 and up.
“We do have some pretty strict guidelines as to what we’re allowing in the school,” Badberg said. “We want to keep it friendly to all age groups, but we want to follow the guidelines that are set as by the school. We need to keep this relatively PG and avoid hard-core weapons and killing and things like that.”
Other games that will be offered are non-computer games such as “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” and “Mario Kart 8” for the Nintendo Switch. Students who did not participate for “Rocket League” can participate in both of those seasons.
“Esports in Sheldon is pretty big,” Murphy said. “It’s like about 20 people probably and some of them don’t come because they are waiting for other games, but it’s caught on huge, and there’s a lot of traction.”
He is an example of how the roster can rotate because while he is the junior varsity captain now, he might take a step back since he does not play a lot of “Mario Kart 8.”
Murphy said the esports team is pretty inclusive.
“That’s one of the things that I’m proud of because having ‘SMITE’ and ‘Mario Kart 8,’ I don’t plan on playing, but I’m glad that we have it for people who would want to play because not everyone wants to play ‘Rocket League,’” Murphy said. “So, that’s pretty cool.”
“Mario Kart 8” is offered during the spring season along with “SMITE.” Maggert said it has not been decided if Sheldon know will play “SMITE” yet, it just depends on the interest.
“Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” and “League of Legends” are played during the fall season. “Overwatch” is played during the winter season, but Maggert and Badberg chose not to put together a team for that game.
Sheldon is one of many schools around the state taking the dive into esports since there are 96 schools in the IAHSEA.
The matches are played in the industrial technology room, which is where the computers are located.
In the future, Badberg is looking at the possibility of setting up a YouTube channel that would broadcast the matches in the room and maybe out in the commons. Plus, the matches could be viewed later by parents.