SPIRE hopes to grow esports | Sports

HARPERSFIELD TOWNSHIP — The growing esports movement is getting some assistance from SPIRE Academy and a local auto dealer.

The sport of video game competition has a professional component where teams compete for as much as a $2 million purse, but there is a wide range of competition in the sport.

A recent esports competition at SPIRE saw six high school students honored for their skills, with three earning college scholarships of a combined value of $6,000. The competition started in February with about 25 students competing in a video game at the dealerships with the final six earning a trip to SPIRE Academy last weekend.

Montrose Auto Group Vice President of Operations Todd Mullen said his company provided the scholarships to find a unique way to reach out to the community.

The scholarship winners included $3,000 for first-place winner Jackson Rudolph; $2,000 for second place to Jacob Lasher, and $1,000 for third to Anthony Slagle.

Mullen said the scholarships can be used for any education the winners might need upon graduation from high school.

SPIRE has an active esport “major” that presently has three participants that come from all over the world.

“We have three students living on site playing APEX Legends,” said Robert Skinnion, the Director of Esports at SPIRE.

He said the academy has a goal of growing Esports locally and providing the highest level instruction for those who come to the school full time.

Skinnion said he came to SPIRE IN 2020, and hopes to be helpful in growing the sport. He said there are about 150 high schools competing in esports throughout the state, but not very many locally.

The esports majors take classes during the morning and early afternoon then hit their computers for some serious competition on the Internet.

Bertram Rellin, of Hawaii; Neri Branchetti, of Florence, Italy, and Alex Rochette, of Derwood, Maryland, are a team that competes with others from all over the United Staes.

“I want to grow my brand and make a living off it [playing video games] and make the people smile,” Rellin said during a break from a recent practice session.

Branchetti was taking private gaming lessons back home in Italy and became aware of the SPIRE program. Rochette said he wasn’t motivated at his old school so his mother found him the unique program and he came to Northeastern Ohio.

Branchetti said there are pro leagues and players have to move up the ranks to have a chance to eventually get in the big championship tournaments where the big money is available for the best of the best.

Rollin said it is a fine line between really good amateurs and the professionals.

Skinnion said SPIRE hopes to recruit more students and expanding gaming in the area as well.

SPIRE treats the esports like basketball, track, wrestling and swimming. The athletes are trained to be the best they can be but also face an academic component and a balance of other social skills and training to prepare them for life in a the complex world of 2023.

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