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Pictured, from left, are members of the Buckhannon-Upshur High School's eSports team. including coach Anthony McDaniels, Josh Gregory, Kaiden McDaniels and Eddie Burnside. / Photo by Tyler Hall

Dear Neighbor: Have you heard about B-UHS’s wildly successful eSports team?

TENNERTON — What exactly constitutes a sport?

Some dictionaries talk of sports as activities that require skill or physical prowess. Other sources are more strict and place a great deal of importance upon the physical exertion. Some cite aspects of teamwork, and others describe the entertainment value inherent in sports.

There remains a dispute over what it is for an activity to be considered a sport. While chess is a recognized sport according to the International Olympic Committee, the game remains a hot topic of debate, with nearly half of the world claiming that it is, in fact, not a sport. And with the continuance of the Information Age, emerging technologies such as video games have been placed in the firing line of this great debate.

Esports, or Electronic Sports, represent a fast-growing market of professional video game players who compete in various leagues for many of the same accolades as other sports. And while more conventional sports such as basketball and football saw a great decline in global revenue during the 2020 pandemic, Esports was able to remain practically stationary – a testament to the ability of these games to connect the world even in troubling times.

Photo by Tyler Hall

Furthermore, the emergence of Esports has allowed less traditional athletes the ability to capitalize off a well-established market in the global economy. Buckhannon-Upshur High School is one of the first schools in West Virginia to see the opportunity to create a team and provide a stage for the youth to perform. I was lucky enough to interview the Esports coach as well as three members of the Call of Duty team, who just finished fifth out of 199 teams in their final Fall tournament.

“It all started with a grant for a Distance Learning Lab, provided by Salem International University,” Anthony McDaniels said.

Mr. McDaniels, a counselor at B-UHS, has quickly taken to the role of Esports coach. The position started as merely a rumor, but as the idea gained traction, Anthony’s name was thrown into the mix.

“The tech specialist put my name out there to Dr. Harrison and Dr. Stankus,” coach McDaniels said. “I told them anything they needed me to do, I’d figure out.”

It was through that gung-ho attitude that Anthony was able to set up the Distance Learning Lab within the library and begin the process of determining how best to compete. Unfortunately, West Virginia schools are just beginning the process of allocating funds for the necessary infrastructure to create and maintain teams, leaving the state bereft of the same number of competitive teams as other states.

“We ended up competing through the High School Esports League,” Anthony stated.

The HSEL (High School Esports League) connects teams throughout North America, allowing for greater competition for everyone involved. It was through this league that the B-UHS Call of Duty team was able to compete with during the Fall split. Enthralled by the whole scope of the project, I began to question the members of the team about their most recent performance and what the Esports Club meant to them.

It didn’t take long before I recognized the vibrant passion the students held for the opportunity.

“I’ve played video games since I was four years old,” senior Kaiden McDaniels recalled. “This project is really important, and it’s changing Buckhannon.”

“Yeah, I’ve been playing from a young age and now it’s giving us new opportunities,” junior Josh Gregory added.

“The pandemic made it more prevalent as well,” said junior Eddie Burnside.

In the most recent showing, the Call of Duty team (Kaiden McDaniels, Josh Gregory, Eddie Burnside, senior Cameron Ervin, and senior alternate Dylan Rowan), was eliminated at fifth place out of 199 teams, nearly qualifying for nationals. Together the three described their last tournament experience with a great deal of fondness.

“We should have beat the best team in the nation,” Kaiden said with great conviction. “We lost our composure, but now we know how to fight back.”

And even though the team was not able to make nationals during the Fall Split, they will have another opportunity during the Spring season.

While I was only able to speak with the members of the Call of Duty team and the coach, Anthony McDaniels listed off several other games in which the club competes and expects the list to expand.

“We want this program to grow, and we’re so thankful to the sponsors we have,” Mr. McDaniels said.

He continued, “We’ve been able to include a more diverse student population into competitions where you can earn varsity lettering. I hope to create more opportunities for these students and possibly even create a teaching position with career clusters.”

“Esports is on a fast come-up in the world,” Kaiden added. “We’ve found a lot of support from other teachers and people in the community,” he said. Lastly, Kaiden wanted to make sure people realized they should follow their dreams.

“You can do whatever you desire,” he stated proudly. And it would seem he and other members of the Esports club are doing just that.

Pictured, from left, are coach Anthony McDaniels, Josh Gregory, Kaiden McDaniels, Eddie Burnside. / Photo by Tyler Hall

I’m sure there will be naysayers who argue over whether these competitive games should be considered a sport, and those who will treat the project as a waste of time. However, the young men I met were level-headed in their success. Eddie Burnside studies computer repair at the Fred W. Eberle Technical Center, a trade that is in no way going out of business anytime soon. Josh Gregory remains an active member of more traditional sports teams as well as talking about the possibility of pursuing a trade becoming a sports attorney. Kaiden McDaniels has been receiving attention from colleges offering the young man money to attend and compete for their team and has expanded himself into an upcoming streamer.

As the age of the internet and video games continues to push forward, we as a town are at the crossroads of learning to adapt with the everchanging world or being left behind. The members of the Esports club practice every weekday from 3:30-5:30 p.m. and come together as individuals to create cohesive team units.

The mental and physical exhaustion one feels after competition cannot be underrated or glossed over. There may be a difference in the way the exhaustion is experienced, but the fact remains that the same stresses akin to traditional sports are very much present in the realm of Esports. Students are learning how to compete and taking away valuable life lessons in how to learn from a loss and how to stay humble in victory.

I hope you can join me in supporting the emergence of new and exciting opportunities as our world continues to reinvent itself. If you would like to spectate events or just generally support the participants, the Buckhannon-Upshur High School page is updated with links to Twitch.tv where the events are streamed. You can find that page at the following link: https://www.facebook.com/BUBuccaneers.

Tyler Hall is a Buckhannon local whose enthusiastic interests include, but are not limited to music, gaming, public service and literature.

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