Tomahawk High School’s new eSports club gearing up for Spring League competition
By Jalen Maki
Tomahawk Leader Editor
TOMAHAWK – A new eSports club has been launched at Tomahawk High School and is getting ready to compete in spring. The team was founded with the help of various grants and donations.
Paula Norman, Library Media and Instructional Technology Coordinator with the School District of Tomahawk, is also the advisor for the eSports team.
“To be honest, I knew nothing about eSports until a year ago,” Norman stated. “Simply put, eSports is a form of sport competition using video games. eSports often takes the form of organized, multiplayer video game competitions, particularly between professional players, individually or as teams. In our case, we compete against teams in other school districts who have enrollment sizes similar to ours, much like athletics.”
Norman explained that, also similar to athletics, there are varsity and JV squads, rosters, and selected captains. Statistics are tracked – in the case of eSports, stats include kills and assists, among others. In-season records determine which teams advance to the State competition, and based on stats, participants can receive conference honors – First Team All-Conference, Second Team All-Conference, and Honorable Mention.
“eSports is the fastest growing sport, and students can receive college scholarships for eSports, just like regular athletes,” Norman noted.
During the COVID-19 school shutdowns in March 2020, Norman attended a series of webinars focused on eSports and later learned that Northcentral Technical College (NTC) in Wausau had recently built its own eSports stadium, which the college allowed high school students use for practice.
“I knew from talking to my husband, who teaches in the high school, and from my years of teaching in the district that we had a number of students who played video games and were looking for a place to fit in at the high school,” Norman said. “I also knew more screen time would be controversial; however, I knew the population that plays video games was going home and doing it, so my thought was ‘Why not have them working together and communicating with others in a controlled environment?’”
The first step in forming an eSports team in Tomahawk was securing funding. In spring 2020, WiLS (formally Wisconsin Library Services) announced a grant opportunity.
“Needless to say, I applied, and in August, the dream started with an email announcing that I received a $5,000 grant to get eSports off the ground at Tomahawk High School,” Norman stated. “WiLS gave out seven grants, and we were the only school district to receive one. We were chosen because of the profound impact they felt this would have on our students, community, other school districts, and with NTC.”
Norman then turned her attention to achieving club status in order to “officially receive the grant and get this club off the ground.”
By Oct. 2020, the club had written its bylaws, developed its code of conduct, and elected officers. The club meets on the first Wednesday of each month to conduct club business to comply with club standards in hopes that, in two years, the district will sponsor the extracurricular activity. Currently, the eSports team has not received any district funding. Norman, history teacher Aaron Wickman and school counselor Daniel Reiter volunteer their time to coach the eSports squad.
Norman noted that the eSports team at one point had 18 students interested in joining, so she continued to seek grants, since most games require teams of three to five.
“Three computers with so many kids wasn’t going to allow us to compete,” she said.
Norman reached out the Tomahawk STAR Foundation, and after a meeting in Dec. 2020, the foundation agreed to donate $3,000 to the eSports team.
The Tomahawk Area Foundation for Youth, Inc. (TAFFY) informed Norman on Jan. 1, 2021 that it would contribute $7,500, allowing the eSports club to purchase more computers. The team currently has five functional computers.
“The last five (computers) are on backorder, as the graphics cards are in low supply,” Norman explained, adding that with 10 computers total, multiple teams will be able to practice and/or game simultaneously.
“Both foundations gave us the grant because the eSports club is targeting a group of students who have been forgotten, and the foundations value the importance of finding a place to belong,” Norman stated.
The eSports club held a Seroogy Candy Bar fundraiser from the middle of Nov. 2020 through Dec. 2020 as a way of letting foundations know what the club was doing to raise money and to show the foundations that the club was invested in its own cause. The roughly $500 raised by the fundraiser paid for excess costs not covered by the grants, as well as the team’s registration fee to the WIHSEA (Wisconsin High School eSports Association), which will allow the club to compete in the Spring League.
Norman said there are currently a dozen “very active” members of the eSports club, and players and coaches alike are “learning a lot in this process.”
“Most of the students who have joined this club have never stayed after school for any event prior to this,” Norman stated. “They are learning that attendance and grades are a priority in co-curriculars, so through academic coaching by the advisors, they are slowly understanding the commitment and time management aspect of extracurricular participation.”
The club practices every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday after school from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.
“The dialogue and excitement is very evident amongst the team members,” Norman noted. “It is really neat to see students who may not talk much in class take on a leadership role.”
The eSports club has signed up to compete in Rocket League, described by Norman as “essentially three-on-three soccer with cars,” and Smite, a five-player game of strategy.
Although competition officially kicks off during the first week of March, being a newly-formed squad, the eSports team has scrimmages on the horizon. The team will receive its schedule soon.
The team is in the process of determining how it will stream its matches, but it will likely take place on its own YouTube channel, Norman said. The league’s streaming platform, www.twitch.tv/wihsea, will feature livestreams of state competitions, as well as some regular season matches throughout the week.
Norman said that when she wrote the WiLS grant, she figured the team would begin competing in its second year. However, “thanks to the generosity of the different foundations,” the club is set to take part in the Spring League this year.
“I never dreamed that would be possible, and the eSports club is extremely grateful for the support,” Norman stated. “The excitement is real and growing. We have middle schoolers inquiring about how to join eSports when they get into high school. No matter our win/loss record this spring, I consider this team winners for persevering through tech issues and laying the groundwork for the future during a pandemic. I can’t wait to see where this sport goes.”
Donations to help the Tomahawk High School eSports team purchase needed supplies and practice time at NTC can be mailed to eSports, c/o Paula Norman, Tomahawk High School, 1048 E. King Rd., Tomahawk, Wis., 54487.