State champion Hickman High School Rocket League esports team qualifies for national tournament

| Columbia Daily Tribune

The state champion Hickman High School Rocket League esports team is preparing for a much bigger challenge at a February national tournament.

The Rocket League team won the first-ever Rocket League state tournament last week.

Juniors Jack Hamilton, Owen Keeler and Caleb Kincheloe form the Rocket League team, coached by Matthew Pryor.

Rocket League is like soccer, but with cars, Owen explained. Players try to score goals with their rocket-powered vehicles, employing team strategies and quick thinking to defeat their opponents.

“There’s also elements of hockey,” Jack said.

Oh, and there’s a vertical element, so it’s on several dimensions, their coach added.

“We’re all like the higher level in Rocket League,” Jack said.”It’s pretty lucky we’re all together at the same school.”

Rocket League, developed and published by Psyonix, was released in 2015. It became free to play in 2020. The game was widely praised upon its release, and quickly became fodder for professional esports leagues like ESL and Major League Gaming. Psyonix also runs its own league, with the first championship series taking place in 2016.

Prize money in professional esports for the game has amounted to up to $1 million.

The Hickman team, while not competing for big prize money like in professional leagues, is one of only 32 teams that qualified for nationals.

“We could be seeing quite a challenge,” Jack said.

All have been playing Rocket League for several years and each said it’s the game they’re most skilled at, though they play some others.

Each school has a separate team for each game, Pryor said. There are separate teams for Overwatch — a team-based first-person, objective-based combat game.

The esports teams benefit the schools and the students, Pryor said. It gives students an outlet for their skills. More and more universities are offering esports scholarships. At a tournament this season university scouts were watching players.

“These colleges are getting serious with esports teams,” Pryor said.

Columbia College, the University of Missouri and Stephens College each have esports teams.

Team members said they will consider all their options when offered scholarships.

“My focus isn’t going to be on esports in college,” Jack said.

“I’ll look at academics first,” Owen said.

“I want to get the word out that this is an up and coming thing,” Pryor said. “It’s fun, but they do put in a lot of work. We have a team of freshmen who these guys are mentoring.”

Before the national tournament, there’s a Missouri High School Esports Association tournament beginning Jan. 11, to include Rocket League and Overwatch.

The competitions don’t have the same COVID threat that other sports do, said Hickman Principal Tony Gragnani. Students compete from their homes. The only problems arise when a student’s internet connection stops.

Gragnani also is president of the Missouri High School Esports Association.

“I’m a gamer myself,” Gragnani said. “Since I’ve been doing this, I’ve learned just how popular esports are across the state.”



Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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