Esports wins their 1st CIAC State Championship

Ibo Rivera’s phone kept going off because Gavin Lo Vasco kept texting. “It was like 3 o’clock in the morning,” Asst. Coach Rivera said. “Gavin’s out in California and he was just flying questions out at me… I think we stopped talking around 4:30.” But it was that conversation that really took Putnam Science Academy’s newbie Esports program to another level. The Mustangs were a first-year program last school year, and in the carefully chosen words of Rivera and Head Coach Aaron Jones “we really struggled.”

Despite that, Texas native Angel Lopez, one of the best Rocket League players in the country, announced in May that he was going to enroll at PSA for the 2022-23 year and join the Esports team. He then connected the coaches and Lo Vasco, who later connected the coaches with James Murphy, who’s from Oregon. “They’d never seen each other in real life, they just knew each other from playing Rocket League online,” Rivera said. “They connected with each other, and they connected each other with us.” Then he added with a laugh, “I don’t think Gavin knew about the time difference when he was texting me, but it was definitely worth it.”

Indeed it was. This past week the Mustangs won the Play VS Rocket League CIAC state championship, besting Hall High School 4-0 in a best-of-seven series. “We were the first PSA team to win one,” Lo Vasco said, “but we won’t be the last.”

“It’s wild,” Rivera said. “We didn’t make the playoffs last year. And it was hard to get kids in here, telling them that we have a Rocket League team but we’re not that good. At least not yet. We wanted to bring in people who could change that.” Said Jones: “Coming from last year into this, it’s just a dream. It’s insane. We really are very fortunate with who we have here this year.”

PSA plays in three leagues – PlayVS, HSEL, and UFEA – each of which is run or sponsored by different companies. The Mustangs won championships in all three, with the biggest of course being Wednesday’s CIAC state title. Rocket League – a three-player game that is essentially playing soccer with cars instead of people – is one of the games the Mustangs play. Lopez, Lo Vasco, and Murphy are the starters, with Ryan Staite and Jonathan Galdamez serving as reserves. PSA teams also play Overwatch, Valorant, and Apex, plus Daniel Tang does individual VR racing. Peter Chen’s game is Valorant, Noel Reid and Caden Wu specialize in Overwatch, while Ben Sendlakowski plays Apex. The games they play depend on what is popular at the time, so every few years or so, the lineups will change. “Our goal was to have a really strong Rocket League team,” Jones said. “You only need three strong players as opposed to Overwatch where you need five or six. Our other games are strong, don’t get me wrong, but we just don’t have the kids yet who are at the same level as Rocket League. The idea is to now build off the success we’ve had this year and hopefully kids

will realize that PSA is a great place for Esports.”

For those who say playing video games is a waste of time, Esports is here to say otherwise. Colleges offer scholarships and majors in Esports (though these guys are interested in majoring in things like Computer Science, Biotechnology, and Criminal Justice). Sponsorships, endorsements, and streaming allows people to make a substantial professional career out of playing. The prize money, depending on the game and level, can start at $10,000 and surpass $1 million. If PSA wins a Rocket League national championship in the spring, Lopez, Lo Vasco, Murphy, Staite and Galdamez could split a five-figure prize dedicated as college scholarship money.

“I wish Esports was popular when I was younger,” Jones said. “It’s a great opportunity for kids to earn scholarship money, and to earn money as professionals. There is a lot to be had, but not everybody can make it. It’s very competitive. And we’re not trying to push our kids to just go pro and not focus on a college education, not at all. But I think our kids have the drive to be at that high level.”

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