New esports program takes DeKalb High School students to new levels

The inaugural season began this fall with 34 participating gamers, and postseason tournament play is now underway for two of the high school’s teams.

Students are seen Monday, Nov. 28, 2022 taking part in the esports program at DeKalb High School.

DeKALB – When DeKalb High School junior Taryn Sarver first decided to give the new esports program a try and join the Ink Crows team toward the beginning of the school year, she leaned into the idea despite her busy schedule.

“The most challenging part isn’t in esports, it’s managing my time,” Sarver said. “I’m in madrigal, a cappella, studying and stage crew.”

Sarver is among 34 students who participated in the inaugural season of the new esports program at DeKalb High School.

As part of this, students may have the opportunity to take part in virtual postseason tournament play organized by PlayVS and sanctioned by the IHSA over the next three weeks.

Bryan Tallitsch, the district’s IT support manager who coaches the esports program, said the new program is geared toward any student at DeKalb High School who is interested in competitive gaming.

There are a number of benefits to establishing an esports program for high school students.

Tallitsch said esports provides a space where students can be the subject matter experts, whereas in some sports, a staff member may be better off assuming that position.

“It promotes a lot of teamwork,” Tallitsch said. “It gets students together. It gets students involved and talking to each other and really trying to compete and focus and set up their own practices.”

Sammy Walt is seen Monday, Nov. 28, 2022 taking part in the esports program at DeKalb High School.

Tallitsch attributes the high school program’s success, in part, to esports’ popularity across the world.

“Gaming is so popular itself, probably the vast majority of students do it even after playing baseball or basketball,” Tallitsch said. “They might go home and load up something on their computer, their Chromebook or phone. A lot of people do it.”

Sarver said the reason she joined the new esports program is simple.

“I enjoy playing games casually,” Sarver said. “They needed another player. I played the game [Splatoon 2] previously.”

DeKalb High School sophomore Sammy Walt, who is part of team Aether, said it feels good knowing that he has advanced to the postseason tournament as a member of a first-year team.

“I play in the Rocket League, which is essentially car soccer,” Walt said. “I’ve been playing [the game] for five years. I think it’s fun. I think it’s difficult to get up the ranks. It takes time.”

Team Aether was expected to compete in a postseason tournament beginning Friday. Walt said the coach has been preparing him and his teammates well for what to expect.

“Coach is helpful,” Walt said. “He tells us when we need better communication.”

Tallitsch said game days typically operate the same way each time students drop in.

“They’ll come in, practice for about an hour and then compete for about a half an hour or so,” Tallitsch said. “Up until this week, it was one tournament for each team a week. So every week they’d have a tournament, and the rest of the days they’d just practice. But this week, it’s every other day they’re competing. So it’s a lot more intense starting this week.”

Walt said he’s glad he decided to join the new esports program.

“I’m pretty competitive,” Walt said. “I’m not super athletic. It’s a good balance of the two.”

Sarver and the rest of the Ink Crows started competing virtually this past Tuesday and Thursday in tournament play against Nintendo Switch gamers.

Sarver said she put a lot of hours into gaming as the postseason tournament approached.

It’s there that she and the rest of the Ink Crows tried their hand at playing against another team in Splatoon 3, a three-person shooting video game with ink-slinging battles.

Sarver said she thought they’d do well but wasn’t sure about first place. She said she and her team had a good shot at it nonetheless.

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