Local high schools gather for first in-person esports tournament in eastern Idaho - East Idaho News
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Local high schools gather for first in-person esports tournament in eastern Idaho

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IDAHO FALLS — Competitive video gaming, or esports, is extremely popular and draws massive audiences in areas of the world like Asia. This past Saturday, the auditorium at Thunder Ridge High School in Idaho Falls was the site of a historic event for esports in east Idaho.

Thunder Ridge hosted the first in-person esports tournament for area high school students. Teams from Thunder Ridge, Rigby and Burley high schools got together to compete in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

This tournament marked another step in the growth of the popularity of esports in east Idaho.

“We’ve had esports here at Thunder Ridge since about 2018 when we opened,” Thunder Ridge esports coach Edmond Walsh told EastIdahoNews. “We’ve been competing virtually all this time. When we first started out, there was really nobody in our area who had esports, so we were competing against schools from Utah, Washington and California.”

“As things have come together, more teams have popped up across the state and we as coaches came to realize that we wanted more formal opportunities for students here in Idaho to compete against students from other Idaho schools, just like any other sport,” he added.

The desire to foster opportunities for competition between Idaho esports teams led to the formation of the Idaho High School Esport Association (IHSEA). The league takes in teams from across the state and organizes events that bring students together to compete while representing their respective schools.

The team at Thunder Ridge was excited to have a chance to host a tournament.

“This was an opportunity for us as a team to host a tournament for those high school teams,” Walsh said. “In the past, kids who’ve had an interest in competing in esports have gone out on their own to do that. But this is the first year high schools have sent teams to compete at a tournament here in southeast Idaho.”

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Adam Forsgren, EastIdahoNews.com

Walsh noted that the College of Eastern Idaho has helped esports get off the ground at Thunder Ridge, first by giving them a place to practice, coaching players and providing needed gaming equipment.

He also said that since he began coaching esports at Thunder Ridge, the team has quickly grown, both in size and how much it feels like any other sports team at the school.

“It came to us from fighting with the district to get them to let us play computer games here at school,” he said. “The kids have gone in and talked to the school board in order to get the games in there. We made it feel like a formal team with jerseys and practices. Now we have weekly competitions where we are competing against other high schools in Idaho.”

Not only do esports give kids who may not want to play traditional sports a way to quench their thirst for competition, but it also gives them a place to go and an environment where they can make friends and flourish.

“The club was originally designed to provide scholarship opportunities through esports,” said Thunder Ridge esports president Hinkley Potter. “It has evolved into more than that. It’s a place for gamers in high school. We do a bit more with our competitive players who compete against other schools but we do also have a lot of people who just like to come and hang out and play video games.”

“There’s a lot of benefits to our club,” added Thunder Ridge esport vice president Cedar Harris. “It offers an inclusive environment for students who may not want to join other sports, like football, or other arts, like music. It allows them to find a safe place in school where they can come and express themselves.”

Both Potter and Harris said that the best way for high school kids who are interested in esports to get involved is to contact the esports team at their schools.

“If your school has an esports team, just show up,” said Potter. “They’re generally pretty inclusive since we need competitors. If they don’t have esports at their school, then they can do what we did at Thunder Ridge. We had a couple of students that were interested and they started talking to teachers and found our coach, Mr. Walsh. If you don’t have a program, I’d say do anything you can to start one.”

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Adam Forsgren, EastIdahoNews.com