Winnetka, Community

New Trier esports players push right buttons in program’s first year; Highland Park gamer does too

A gamer is someone who plays video games. It also refers to a person who seems to always perform well under pressure.

For a group of New Trier High School students, both definitions apply.

New Trier’s esports club recently finished an impressive debut season that saw one of its teams advance all the way to the national finals.

The club’s “Valorant” team recorded a comeback victory in the championship of the High School Esports League Spring Major’s Central Division tournament on April 24 to earn a bid to national competition May 19-21 in Kansas City.

During a best-of-three match in the central championships, New Trier was in trouble in the second round after losing the first 14 wins to 12 to Minnetonka High School out of Minnesota. That’s when senior Kush Arora came through with a huge play to knock off one of his opponents. He then finished off the rest of them to earn a win and set the tone for the rest of the match.

Arora and company won the second round 13-9 and dominated the third 13-1.

“The moment we won that (point), we just played our game,” Arora said. “When we won that second round, we knew we were set to win the whole thing.”

“Valorant” is a five-on-five, first-person shooter game, and Arora and the rest of the team compiled a 7-1 record during spring competition before dominating en route to the regional tournament finale.

Esports club sponsor Ryan Dunn, a gamer himself, very much enjoyed watching the tense championship bout.

“It was exciting,” he said. “The students start winning and realizing it is a reality that they might win it all. It was neck and neck when one of our players made a huge play. That changed the momentum of the game.”

New Trier esports players compete in a “Valorant” national tournament on May 19.

Dunn plays a lot of video games — “probably more than is healthy,” he said. It is something he can share with students, many of whom have consistently asked him about starting a club at New Trier.

Within the past year, the Illinois High School Association brought esports into its fold, providing it with a formal state competition series. Dunn said that move by the IHSA was the catalyst for New Trier starting a club last fall.

“It’s our very first year. We had 30 kids in the fall and that’s almost doubled to about 60 in the spring,” he said.

The esports club is open to all students, and members play a variety of games from “Valorant” to “League of Legends” to “Rocket League” and more.

While other team’s saw success, Arora’s “Valorant” squad advanced the furthest, and he said plenty goes into being successful in competitions.

The team scouts its opponents, watching their previous matches on Twitch to pick up on tendencies and anything else it can exploit.

Then, he said, once in the gamechair, it’s a mental game as much as a technical one.

“In any esports competition, it’s about your mentality and confidence going into a match,” Arora said. “You can be the best player in the world but not right mentally or confident in your skills. Our mentality drove us to the end.”

New Trier’s “Valorant” team didn’t place in the national finals, but it’s just the beginning for the esports club.

Other North Shore gamers also found esports success this school year.

Highland Park High School student Erick Chavez with his state title after winning the “FIFA” tournament.

Highland Park’s Erick Chavez went unbeaten (5-0) in the “FIFA ’23” state championships, which features a double elimination tournament. Chavez won his title match 3-2.

The state series also features tournaments for “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe,” “Rocket League” and “Smash Bros. Crew Battle.”

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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