Millennium esports team creates new opportunities | Online Features

In the summer of 2021, the Agua Fria Union High School District approved esports teams for its students.

Millennium High School jumped at the opportunity.

When a possible coach didn’t come forward, Lukas Sheets volunteered. He teaches American history, speech and debate and world religions at Millennium.

“I’d rather there be an esports team than not,” Sheets said.

“And I feel that of our staff, I’m one of those who’s more familiar with the industry. And so, I applied for the job to try to get this program started.”

He was hired as coach late in the fall semester.

“I grew up playing competitive sports — team and individual,” Sheets added.

“Being an athlete doesn’t necessarily prepare you for coaching. It’s totally different. But I could do it, considering I’m a teacher and I have the will and the drive to work with these students and get them together to work as a team. This seemed like a good opportunity to do that, especially because I grew up as a gamer.”

Sheets operates the esports team like any other athletic sport. Much to his surprise, he said, tryouts attracted nearly 50 students. He had to slim the team down to 16 students.

“Just like any other coach, I had to make those tough decisions and figure out what’s right for the team because it is a competitive esport,” Sheets said. “It’s not, you know, just a video game club available to all students, unfortunately. I would love for us to have enough equipment for that, but you know, we have to be selective, and we have to find people that are competitive and that will work together as a team.”

The students who made the cut were divided into four four-student teams. In this spring semester, there is a varsity and JV team for playing Rocket League, and a varsity and JV team for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

The teams do not travel to compete and have a room designated for them to play at Millennium. They practice on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays are optional. They have matches on Wednesdays and Thursdays. All their games are streamed live on Twitch by a broadcast team that they assembled. The league is AIA recognized and is organized by PlayVS.

A community has been fostered through the team.

“Going into the esports team, nobody knew each other. We didn’t even know first names at all. We were all pretty different grade levels,” said senior Andrew Orlando, who is captain of the varsity Rocket League team. “And as the practices went on, and we started playing with each other, more and more, we really bonded together really strongly. Now, we practically hang out with each other, like, every day at school. We hang out at lunch, and we play a bunch of games there and stuff like that.”

According to Orlando, he has played esports for four or five years prior to this semester. He never played for a team, just individually in tournaments. Playing for his school has given him new opportunities.

Orlando said he enjoys representing his school.

“This is completely new. And there are a lot of people who I’ve spoken to who would have wanted this opportunity when they were in high school,” Orlando said.

“To experience it is, quite honestly, just like being in a dream.”

Sheets has relished his time as the coach of the team. “From the get-go, my plan was A) to get the program up and running and B) to foster a community and create a positive feedback loop, if you will,” he said.

“I wanted to help facilitate that positive nature in them. When it comes to a team, you really need to be building each other up instead of breaking each other down. From there, I’ve actually been really surprised and impressed with my teams and their performances this year. We’re a first-year program, and we have four teams, most of which it appears are going to make it to playoffs this year.”

Junior Robert Robles, who is also a Millennium soccer player, wanted to join the team after watching his brother, who played esports at GCU. He is on the JV team for Rocket League.

“I’ve been playing video games for I would say all my life, basically,” he said.

“When I saw my brother playing esports I was like, ‘that’s crazy I didn’t know like, they had video games as a sport.’ I guess you could say it sparked something in me. When I would visit him and he’d be playing, and he was kind of like, well, now I’m going to follow in his footsteps and I’m going to do this the best that I can do. And I’m going to keep on doing it in the future, hopefully.”

Sheets said that he’s “absolutely loved every moment of being an esports coach. Even outside of just the competitive sports side of it, I’m seeing huge benefits for the students. I’ve seen students’ academics improve. And so, I think that alone from a teacher’s perspective, not just a coach’s perspective, it’s worth every minute that’s put into it.”

The team’s progress can be followed on Instagram @MHS_TigersEsports, and they stream all their games live at 4 pm Wednesdays and Thursdays on Twitch @MHS_Tigers.

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