OC students honing teamwork, problem-solving, communication skills in new e-sports league

Each of the five team members had their assignment. Two flanked the enemy from opposite sides. One served as a decoy. And the other two marched straight in for a direct attack.

The melee lasted for close to 20 minutes. Throughout, Nicholas Kang, the most experienced player, calmly directed other teammates.

“Martin, you come in low. Wesley, you need to attack up high,” Kang said. “We have to remember we each have our focused objectives.”

Students on computers participating in online gamingAll the action took place inside a computer lab at the El Dorado High School campus in Placentia. The battlefield was the virtual reality world of the massively popular online game League of Legends, filled with elves, orcs and other mythical creatures. The combat tools used by the team were keyboards, mice, headsets and high-definition monitors.

These five students make up El Dorado High’s e-sports team, one of 38 that are competing as part of the inaugural Orange County High School Esports League, which launched in January.

The team emerged victorious after a recent practice session, with each player executing his tasks with the delicate precision that’s come from hours of practicing together.

“We’ve all gotten pretty good at working with each other,” Wesley Kuan said. “Teamwork is one of the most important skills we have been able to develop through the league. It’s one of those skills that’s valuable no matter where you go.”

Through the e-sports league, teams compete against each other weekly in the game League of Legends, a team-oriented strategy game set in mystical forests where competitors select avatars with unique fighting skills. These characters range from sword-wielding warriors to sorcerers that cast spells on opponents.

The league quickly gained popularity among students at campuses across the county when it began earlier this year. About one in three high schools countywide has at least one team. About a dozen of these schools have multiple teams.

At El Dorado High, Digital Media Arts teacher David Block serves as the team’s advisor.

“If it weren’t for the league, some of these students would likely be at home playing the game by themselves,” he said. “The league has allowed them to build a community where they come together, strategize and support each other, while building on their communication skills.”

Block said he’s also seen some of his shy students become the vocal leaders when they’re gaming.

“We have students with different interests and different backgrounds,” he said.

El Dorado team members gather twice a week after school for practice sessions and compete against other schools on Wednesday afternoons. Their computer lab includes about 30 Dell PC stations equipped with high-end graphics hardware and lightning-fast internet connections.

On Wednesdays, Block allows other students to watch the team face off against rival schools. (Each team plays the game from its own campus, with the actual competition taking place online.) Students gather in groups behind team members to cheer, holler and groan as they watch the competitions.

El Dorado’s team got off to a rough start, winning one of the first three competitions. But team members said they expect to gain enough momentum, and wins, through the rest of the season to qualify for the playoffs in April.

The program is a collaboration funded by the Samueli Foundation in partnership with OCDE, Orange County STEM Initiative, Connected Camps, UCI Connected Learning Lab, UCI Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences, UCI Esports, UCI Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Alvarez & Marsal.