Michael Daly, the athletic director at Deering High, wasn’t certain what kind of response he would get when the school offered its first esports team this fall.

“It just started at the last minute when we made decision to do it,” said Daly. “And we had like four kids and we were wondering, ‘Was this a good decision?’ ”

It turned out to be a great decision.

The Rams won the inaugural  albeit unofficial esports Rocket League state championship on Monday night, defeating Spruce Mountain 4-0 in the best-of-seven match. Although the Maine Principals’ Association sponsored esports for the first time this fall, it did not sponsor the playoffs. Those were set up by PlayVs, the company that provides the online platform, technical support and schedules for high school leagues in 23 states.

Deering’s three-player team consisted of Mick Fennessy, Ian Sullivan and Connor Eide.

“It feels great,” said Deering Coach Cyle Davenport. “The kids have been excited to do it all year, they’ve been excited to play on a team and officially for the school. And these kids who were on the team have been playing Rocket League for a long time. It’s not like they just started.”

Rocket League is a video game that combines soccer with rocket-powered cars. It is played in a domed stadium where the roof and walls are in play. Fennessy and Sullivan are both members of Deering’s soccer team while Eide was also a football player. They missed some matches early in the year while they played their traditional sports. But when they joined, said Davenport, they never lost a game.

“When they came on we quickly realized we were a lot better than teams we were playing,” said Davenport.

The championship match will be replayed on Twitch on Friday at 3 p.m.

“I’ll definitely watch it,” said Sullivan. “It was a lot of fun.”

According to MPA assistant executive director Mike Bisson, 29 schools participated in the first season of MPA-sanctioned esports. The MPA offered two leagues: Rocket League (a three-player game) and League of Legends (a five-player arena battle game).

“It was incredibly successful,” said Bisson. “I think with the pandemic and the disruption to the other athletic programs, schools were looking for an outlet for the kids. I think we’ll see even more growth for the spring season.”

The spring season will begin in March and Bisson said PlayVs will add a third league featuring the popular sports video games FIFA and Madden 20 on the Playstation 4 console.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, most of the schools held their matches remotely, with gamers playing on home computers and communicating through the online app Discord. So there wasn’t much of a celebration for the Rams when they won the title.

“It wasn’t as energetic as a live in-person thing,” said Fennessy. “We celebrated a little bit, congratulated each other, but it wasn’t as big a deal.”

Daly, Deering’s athletic director, said the Rams’ roster eventually expanded to 28 players.

“It’s great, especially in the remote setting of school,” he said. “It was another chance to stay active, stay involved and stay connected with each other through gaming.”

Fennessy added that the sport helped players make new connections. “It was a lot of fun, for sure,” he said. “I’ve never actually seen Connor in person but I’m pretty good friends with him now.”

And as far as the spring season goes, the Rams are ready to repeat.

“I think we can do another one,” said Sullivan. “Maybe not win every single game again, but definitely win our championship.”


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