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WACO hosts first southeast Iowa esports tournament at new Innovation Lab

GTNS photo by Grace King

Isaiah Albright and Sam Jerrel, freshmen at Mt. Pleasant Community High School, teamed up to play Duos Fortnite at WACO’s first esports tournament on Saturday, Nov. 17.
GTNS photo by Grace King Isaiah Albright and Sam Jerrel, freshmen at Mt. Pleasant Community High School, teamed up to play Duos Fortnite at WACO’s first esports tournament on Saturday, Nov. 17.
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WAYLAND — WACO High School hosted the first-ever southeastern Iowa esports tournament on Saturday, Nov. 17, welcoming middle and high school students from Mt. Pleasant, Fairfield and Maharishi School to compete in Duos Fortnite.

The 13 teams competed against each other with the focus on eliminating other teams to be placed in the winners’ bracket. Those who didn’t succeed were placed in the underdog bracket to give each player the chance to fight their way back into the championship match.

“This is new ground, and for me it’s interesting to see what interest and talent we have from our students,” said John Grunwald, the technology director with the Fairfield Community School District. “We were in awe of the program (at WACO) and the fact that students designed and built it sets it apart from other schools.”

Six students from Fairfield competed in Duos Fortnite Saturday. Some students excel while others may not just like an athletic sport, Grunwald said, adding that he is trying to jump-start an esports club in the Fairfield school district.

The esports tournament wasn’t as much about competition as the culture of videogaming for some students. It teaches the skills of communication and strategic thinking while connecting students of different grade levels and academic interests through video games, Grunwald said.

Deacon Hallett, a freshman at WACO, was looking forward to the tournament Saturday as he partnered up with a student he had never played with before. While Hallett said that could bring an added challenge to the game, he was happy to make a new friend.

“I like playing video games,” Hallett said, adding that he doesn’t attend athletic games at the high school. “It’s something for people who don’t play sports can get into and have an after-school activity.”

Tyler Jalas, a freshman at Mt. Pleasant Community High School, said that it was pretty special to compete in an esports tournament and play one of his favorite games.

With video gamers now going professional and making a living from livestreaming their games, Jalas said an esports tournament was a good way to get experience to potentially apply for an esports college scholarship and get a name in the professional gaming world.

“Of course, we want to win, but it’s still just fun to be with friends,” Jalas said.

“You don’t see this every day,” said Carlos Figueroa, a senior at Mt. Pleasant Community High School.

WACO eighth-grader Bryan Ackerman said that the tournament is a fun way to compete and socialize with other schools.

Sam Jerrel, a freshman at Mt. Pleasant, played in the first round of the tournament Saturday, which he said was exciting.

“It’s fun playing with friends and being able to get wins and having other people to go against and being able to say you beat them,” Jerrel said.

Drew Ayrit, STEM educator and technology coach at WACO High School, said that at the start of the tournament, they were “squashing technology bugs left and right.” Ayrit said with many of the players bringing their own controllers and headsets, it altered the settings on the computers and they had to manually change them.

Ayrit said that Saturday’s tournament was a trial run and they are learning as they go. “Keep an eye on WACO. We’ll be doing more events in the future,” Ayrit said.