A smattering of spectators watch a Super Smash Bros. Ultimate match between Tyson Thompson of Maine Central Institute and Rohan Yadav of Cape Elizabeth during the high school esports state championships Monday at Central Maine Community College in Auburn. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

AUBURN — The latest Maine high school sports state championship event turned a familiar gymnasium setting into something a bit different.

From cheers to spectacular maneuvers, to shouts from players, the scene at Central Maine Community College had everything one might expect from a championship event. This time, though, the focus was on the screen rather than the floor, with championships on the line in one of the state’s newest high school sports offerings.

On Monday, the state esports championships were held in person for the first time at CMCC’s Kirk Hall Gymnasium. Teams from four Maine high schools competed for championships in three separate games in a series of back-and-forth matches. The championships — which the Maine Principals’ Association sponsors — highlighted a sport at the apex of its popularity.

“It’s a culmination of something we’ve worked for for a really long time,” said Rohan Yadav, a senior from Cape Elizabeth. “We’ve done this virtually the past two years, so it’s great to see my teammates as well as my competitors be able to get together like this in a great environment.”

Teams competed in Rocket League (a vehicular arcade-style soccer game), Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (a fighting game featuring characters from different Nintendo franchises) and League of Legends (a multiplayer online battle arena game). State titles were awarded in all three with Caribou winning Rocket League, Maine Central Institute taking the Smash Bros. title and Noble winning League of Legends.

Smash Bros. led off the day, and the first competition had a dramatic comeback. In a best-of-three series tied 1-1, Lucius Tran came back from a 2-0 deficit in the final showdown of the match to give MCI the title over Cape to raucous cheers from those in attendance.


Caribou’s “Gilson’s Goons” squad then defeated Noble 4-1 to win the Rocket League title in the day’s second showdown. The League of Legends final between Cape and Noble offered another lively setting, though the players and crowd were on different wavelengths as a result of a three-minute delay between gameplay and the video stream.

The delay, implemented to prevent players from gaining an unfair information advantage, is always nerve-wracking for Cape coach Jason Lund. Yet the atmosphere of the event, Lund said, rendered the less-than-ideal details of the day, whatever they were, mere afterthoughts.

“I’ve been dreaming of esports in a high school environment for almost 30 years, so to be able to see something like this come together is just excellent,” Lund said. “I have some kids who are ranked in the top 10, and I have some kids where this is the first thing they’ve participated in in high school — it doesn’t matter. It’s a very welcome thing.”

Esports has been growing exponentially in Maine over the past several years, and the coronavirus pandemic only served to fuel that growth. With other sports being drastically altered or outright canceled, an activity that could be done with no restrictions became a popular draw.

That was especially true in fall 2020, the first year the MPA sanctioned an official state championship event for Rocket League. The spring and fall 2021 championships added League of Legends to the mix, and beginning last spring, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate became the third championship offering.

Tyson Thompson, left, of Maine Central Institute and Rohan Yadav of Cape Elizabeth High School play Super Smash Bros. Ultimate during the high school esports state championships Monday at Central Maine Community College in Auburn. Tyson won the match, 3-2. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

“We brought it in at Spruce Mountain the year the MPA first (offered it), and it took right off,” said Marc Keller, athletic director at Spruce Mountain and a member of the MPA Esports Committee. “It’s been great because even with social distancing and the pandemic, kids have still been able to participate.”


It was the first in-person championship event for Maine high school esports, which had planned to have on-site championships the past two years before the pandemic forced a change in plans. CMCC, which has its own esports program and a location equidistant from most schools competing, was a sensible location to do it.

“I remember I came here a bit before the pandemic and checked out the esports lab, and I just said to myself, ‘wow,’” said Mike Bisson, an MPA director. “That’s kind of how we got started with the MPA; we saw the level they were doing it at, and then we heard from some schools that were interested.”

Teams participating in Monday’s state championships reached the event after advancing through their respective qualifying tournaments, which began Dec. 6 and concluded Saturday. Those qualifiers followed a regular season that began Sept. 26 and ran through Nov. 28. 

Just as players on fields, courts, rinks and tracks might have superstitions such as lucky socks, shunning a pitcher in the middle of a no-hitter or not crossing hockey sticks, so, too, do esports players. For Cape Elizabeth, it’s something that Yadav and his teammates call “praying to Billie Eilish,” a renowned singer/songwriter. 

“The box where we store all our Nintendo Switch stuff is an Amazon box that has Billie Eilish’s face on it. It’s a meme our team has had ever since we started this,” Yadav said. “She’s the queen; she’s always there and watching over us, and we know she’ll guide us to victory.”

It was, as noted, an event in which all the stops were pulled out to give the players a remarkable experience. MPA plaques were awarded to the respective winners and runners-up; players took center stage as they played on high-quality computers with light-up keyboards; PlayVS announcers commentated the Rocket League and League of Legends matches.

They’re scenes that will only expand in size and grandeur in the coming years as esports continues to grow in popularity. There are currently 34 high schools participating in various esports titles across Maine, and that list, Bisson said, will only keep getting bigger.

“I get questions all the time from ADs asking me about the process, the requirements and the security around the internet and all of those things,” Bisson said. “You can tell people are getting more and more interested, and it’s great for everyone.”

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