The Esports Arena and Learning Lab stirred with the excitement of a “Friday Night Lights” playoff game as high school students from across North Carolina competed for a state esports championship on May 13 and 14.
The Spartan Championship was the culmination of the pilot season of UNC Greensboro’s Scholastic Esports Alliance (UNCG SEA), which launched in January. It is the nation’s first university-led, curriculum-focused statewide high school esports league.
GAMERS GET A STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
Thirty-nine North Carolina high schools participated in the pilot season of UNCG SEA. Students attending these schools had the opportunity to compete in league play and top teams were invited to the in-person Spartan Championship, which featured Epic Games’ Rocket League and Fortnite. Just like their peers who play football or run track, these high school gamers had a structured season that ended with a state tournament declaring an overall winner for each category.
John Yates, coach of the esports team at Cabarrus Early College of Technology, celebrated with his team after their Rocket League championship win. “We’ve had some long nights practicing in our little tech room, but now we’re here and we won it all. We really won a state championship! I can’t wait for our team to take this back to our school and celebrate it with their classmates.”
After an exciting regular season, the top 16 Rocket League teams, 24 Fortnite duo teams, and 48 Fortnite solo players traveled to Greensboro to compete at our esports arena.
The Rocket League teams played on Saturday and the tournament ended with the Cobras from the Cabarrus Early College of Technology in the top spot. The winning team was made up of Braden Jackson, Isaac Hinson and Matthew Yang.
Jackson, the Cobra’s team captain, kept the arena entertained with his gaming banter and “We’re still here!” reminders with each match win. He loved playing in UNCG’s state-of-the-art facility and enjoyed connecting with other players at the tournament.
On Sunday morning, the Fortnite duo teams took over the arena and Peyton Crowter and Tobin Gragg from North Carolina Virtual Academy came away with the championship. In the afternoon, Gragg took the solo Fortnite championship as well.
All first-place players won Nintendo Switch systems and the top three placing teams for each category received cash winnings to support the esports programs at their schools.
A League Whose Time Has Come
The huge turnout for the Spartan Championship and excitement in the arena confirmed the demand for a league like UNCG SEA. Students and coaches in attendance praised the league’s organizers for the competitive season and expressed their anticipation for the curriculum development that will be offered to UNCG SEA schools this fall.
“It was fun competing against counties that we knew this season. We hope that UNCG keeps expanding the league,” said Cabarras Cobras’ coach Yates. “This is where esports is going. Having this program that incorporates education is so important, so parents will understand that this is more than just playing video games.”
Beyond the Game
UNCG SEA is a partnership with Esports Development and Growth Enterprise (EDGE) and Esports Integration, which manages operations, helps to deliver curriculum, and sanctions regional and state esports competitions. EDGE and Esports Integration consultants were on hand to oversee the tournament, working closely with UNCG’s Gaming and Esports Club and media studies students to produce the Spartan Championship.
“Part of UNCG SEA is the “curriculum first” component. And that’s not just for high schoolers; it’s also for students at UNCG,” explains Esports Intergration’s Josh Kell. “We have been working with them for several weeks on tournament production – run of show, graphics, broadcast, tournament organization, hospitality. The majority of what was done today was all run by UNCG students. They are getting transferrable skills that will launch them into a career.”
The mission of UNCG SEA is to enhance educational outcomes for students, establish an end-to-end talent development pipeline for N.C. industry, and position the state as the nation’s leading esports economy. It’s an effort that UNCG’s David Wyrick is proud to be a part of.
“The pilot season of UNCG SEA has been a remarkable success. We have been thrilled by the participation of North Carolina high schools and the enthusiasm for esports competition at the high school level,” said Wyrick, Interim Chief Education Officer of Launch UNCG, which directs UNCG’s efforts to prepare students for jobs in the emerging esports industry.
“We are reaching high school prospects through this gaming league and providing academic applications for a media industry that they already love. The high schoolers competing at the Spartan Championship and college students running the tournament could be future esports executives one day and UNCG is here to help them carve out that career path.”
Story by Becky Deakins, University Communications.
Photography by Sean Norona, University Communications.