Unit 5 expands its esports lab; Normal West alum wins a national championship

The esports program at Unit 5 is advancing with a renovated lab that can accommodate twice the number of students for practice sessions compared to the previous setting.

The students got involved in building gaming systems for their team at the district’s esports computer lab in Normal Community West High School, thanks to a partnership with professional esports organization, Generation Esports. These enhancements were possible through donations amounting to over $12,000 from tech companies like Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), Gigabyte and NVIDIA.

The upgrades come at a fitting time when Jonathan Edmonson, an ex-student of Normal West, defended his national championship in the game NBA 2K.

The Genesis

The esports initiative at Unit 5 originated from a small group of students who wanted to play games like Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart, and other Nintendo games under the supervision and guidance of Jarrod Rackauskas, the founder and director of the district’s esports.

The program catapulted into prominence when the students won the Super Smash Bros. tournament at Springfield High School four years ago. The upgraded lab will host practices of a variety of games including Mario Kart, Overwatch 2, Call of Duty, Counter-Strike 2, League of Legends, among others. Each game even has dedicated coaches to maintain efficiency and student involvement.

The lab refurbishments and upgrades were initiated with the repurposing of some of the district’s old computers. They were further boosted with a grant from the Illinois Education Association (IEA) for buying advanced equipment.

Several Unit 5 esports team members have earned full-ride college scholarships playing video games. The vision is now to increase competitive intensity and to monitor the academic and social health of the players, said Rackauskas.

National Grandeur

Jonathan Edmonson, a sophomore at Heartland Community College, retained his national Pepsi title in NBA 2K on December 1st. Edmonson was part of the Unit 5 esports team during his final year at Normal West and made an impressive name for himself in NBA 2K, due to his keen interest in basketball and football.

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