In terms of overall success, Socorro High School’s E-team came away from the state tournament in Albuquerque last weekend with a fifth-place finish.
Considering they did not field an entry in one of the five titles – the Warriors could not find anyone to play Madden football – coach Jesse Griffith was quite satisfied.
“We were able to beat out some of the toughest schools in the state,” he said. “I believe 3A has some of the toughest competition because of the schools involved like Sandia Prep, Taos Academy, St. Michael’s, Albuquerque School for Excellence and Early College Academy run away with it every year.”
Socorro rode the backs of its senior-laden Mario Kart squad that entered the tournament as the top seed, but unexpectedly lost in the championship match to second-seeded Raton, a team the Warriors had beaten twice during the regular season.
The team was formed by captain Cody Johnston shortly before the season started. He recruited friends Jeremiah Patterson, Elias Zheng and Finn Parker. The latter two are Johnston’s teammates from the Warriors soccer team.
“We got our team together about two weeks before the normal season and none of us had ever played competitive Mario Kart before,” Johnston said. “My freshman year, my teacher, Mr. Griffith, he started E-sports, and jokingly, I told him, get Mario Kart and I’ll join because I enjoy playing Mario Kart. In my senior year, NMAA introduced Mario Kart so I stuck to my word and I got Elias, Finn and Jeremiah to play so we would have a full team.”
Making the transition from casual player to competitive player was a bigger leap than anticipated, he said.
“I thought I was okay, I guess I was okay for a casual player, but when we started playing competitively I learned I wasn’t the greatest,” Johnston said. “There’s a big jump between casual and competitive Mario Kart, I’ve learned.”
He credited Zheng with making a real effort to bring the team up to speed in a hurry.
“Elias taught us a lot of the shortcuts,” Johnston said. “He recently got a switch (a networking device that enhances a computer’s capabilities) and he bought Mario Kart. He’s been playing maybe four months but he definitely learned really fast. And it was really nice for him to be able to teach us a lot of this stuff.”
For his part, Zheng said he was just being a good teammate.
“Honestly it was a lot of fun,” he said. “I’m still trying to process what happened on Saturday. But we had some good times. It’s unfortunate that we had to lose the grand championship.”
Zheng, however, got to extend his state tournament experience, working as a color analyst or “shoutcaster” for the broadcast of the 4A and 5A championship matches.
“I knew I had to get on that stage because shoutcasting is one of my passions,” he said. “They put me on the 4A match and I did color commentating and analysis of each play because I had the experience. I was only supposed to do 4A but they had me back for 5A. Shoutcasting is a lot of fun. My play-by-play partner, he was a good partner. We played off each other really well.”
The school’s E-sports team finished up with its fourth season and has seen tremendous growth along the way, Griffith said.
“This is the largest the team has been and I’m expecting it to continue to grow,” he said. “We started off with eight dedicated players then and now we have 32. Hopefully, we recruit some Madden players for next year.”
And like any sport, it takes a tremendous amount of practice to be proficient, Griffith said.
“These kids are competing every single week for about 16 weeks,” he said. “E-sports never ends. There are summer cups and prizes for students to win.”