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KIRTLAND – Martin Charley is the captain of his sports team. The 11th-grader calls out plays for teammates who listen attentively and respond.

But they’re not out on a field, or in a gym. They’re in a small computer lab at Bond Wilson Technical Center in Kirtland, practicing for the upcoming high school esports season by playing the video game League of Legends.

“I want everybody just to learn and know about their characters and learn what does damage,” Charley said. “I like that it’s team based.”

This is the world of esports, organized multiplayer video game competitions. The esports industry generates billions of dollars in revenue from competitions around the world.

In 2018, the New Mexico State Activities Association started allowing high schools in the state to organize official high school esports teams.

In 2019, Bond Wilson Technical Center’s team made it all the way to the state finals, eventually wining the silver medal that year, playing a game called Smite which involves teams playing as fantasy monsters battling against each other.

From state finals to a new beginning

Charley was one of the students that lead that team to the state finals. Since then, other team members graduated and some just moved away from the area. The Bond Wilson esports team had to start fresh this season with mostly new faces. They also chose a new game to play called League of Legends, a multiplayer fantasy game similar to Smite, but with a little bit more emphasis on strategy and tactics.

Bond Wilson teacher Travis Clary, coach of the school’s esports team, said that the team had switched from focusing on Smite to League of Legends because of the interests of the team’s new members, who mostly preferred the latter game to the former.

Clary said that a lot of the team members had been playing the game together months before, “and that helps when you have people playing together for that long, just like any other sport,” Clary said.

Clary describes his role as coach as closer to that of an adviser for the team, as both him and the team learn the ins and outs of the game through friends, Youtube videos and tutorials. But Clary is confident in the ability of his team to pick the game up fast and to work together to succeed.

“It’s really on them,” Clary said.

New season starts soon

Charley said he watched a lot of tutorial videos to teach himself the game, put in a lot of time just playing the game, “and I guess I just sort of became good,” he said.

Kenzie Cook just joined the team, but he’s already Charley’s second in command. Both Cook and Charley hope to attain a college scholarship through esports, and, of course, just have fun playing the game.

As their first practice of the season wound down on Jan. 8, the room erupted in excitement as the team won against another online team.

The New Mexico high school esports season starts the week of Jan. 20.

Sam Ribakoff is a visual journalist for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 or via email at sribakoff@daily-times.com.

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