Sedro-Woolley esports team logs on for year two
SEDRO-WOOLLEY — Sedro-Woolley High School esports coach Jason Dilley is looking forward to this season.
Dilley has 50 on his online video gaming team roster this year, up from a season ago when he started with 12 and ended with about 21.
“We had a successful first year,” said Dilley, a math and statistics teacher at the high school. “There was a lot of trial and error. We learned a lot of things. Now we are gearing up for year two and there are a lot of opportunities on the horizon.”
Sedro-Woolley currently plays within the High School Esports League, a governing body spanning the U.S. and Canada.
The league has four five-week seasons with teams placed in regions based on time zones. Teams compete in the online games of Overwatch, Dragon Ball FighterZ, League of Legends, Rainbow 6 Siege, Rocket League, Super Smash Bros Wii U, Hearthstone, Counterstrike and the recently added Fortnite.
The top teams from each region advance to playoffs, with the top eight teams from each season advancing to the 32-team elimination-style national finals where as much as $50,000 in college scholarships can be won.
Individual players can also advance on their own.
Outside of high school, Dilley said there are about 50 colleges with official esports programs and that number is increasing as esports grow in popularity.
“This is more than just a sport,” Dilley said. “This can turn into a career. There are a lot of opportunities for these kids.”
As he heads into the high school program’s second year, Dilley is having to change his perspective and direction a bit.
“I have never been a coach before,” he said. “I’m learning.”
A year ago, things were less structured. This year, Dilley is taking a new tack.
“There is going to a practice schedule,” he said. “With upwards of eight teams (within the school’s club), that had to be done for starters. We need to have that consistency. I realized it has to be run like any other sport.”
There will be varsity and junior varsity teams this season complete with criteria for earning a varsity letter.
Dilley said though he lost some quality players to graduation, this year’s squad is loaded with returners, including seniors Tyler Welsh, Daniil Baydak and Ryan Pierce.
“Last year, we had three of our Hearthstone players place in the top five in the West Coast for three of the four seasons,” Dilley said. “In the spring, one of my Hearthstone players (Welsh), placed first in the West Coast in the regular season games.
“Both Tyler (Welsh) and Daniil (Baydak) qualified for the national tournament in July. Tyler went on to place third in the nation in Hearthstone, one place away from a college scholarship.”
Welsh was a wild card into the tournament, but won a tiebreaker in the group stage and advanced all the way to the semifinals.
“I was surprised how it went,” he said. “I was lucky enough to get a couple good decks (of cards). I got more and more confident.”
Dilley said he and Pierce were in the school’s computer science lab live-streaming Welsh’s national tournament games, critiquing his every move. And while there may have been some questionable strategies in the opinion of the two, Welsh proved he knew what he was doing in the end.
“It was intense,” Welsh said. “There was pressure. I had some decks that just didn’t work.”
Welsh said he learned from the experience and is looking forward to helping his teammates improve.
“It’s growing really fast,” Dilley said of the popularity of esports not only at Sedro-Woolley High School but throughout the world. “We have a lot going on here and there are big opportunities on the horizon.”
Already, the team has been the beneficiary of updated systems in the school’s computer science lab.
Internet access and speed were lacking at times last season, and the Cubs were forced to forfeit games due to issues with buffering and outages.
“I am super happy with our district,” Dilley said. “They have been so supportive. ... We have a great year of competition ahead of us.”