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  • Writer's pictureHigh School Esports League

Building a Legacy Vol. 6: Blue Valley West

Author: David Stone, Commissioner of Competition


If you look up an example of the phrase "exploding onto the scene", you'll come across an image of Coach Karley Shirfan and the Blue Valley West Jaguars esports team. This spring season marks their 1-year anniversary competing in the High School Esports League and to say they've done well is quite the understatement. Fall 23 saw The Jaguars finishing 2nd in the VALORANT Central region, then qualifying for Spring Premier through the open qualifiers (they're now gearing up to compete in the playoffs). They also finished 4th overall in Counter-Strike 2, earning a spot in Nationals at the end of May. Overseeing numerous successful rosters in over 10 different titles can be quite the challenge, but Head Coach Shirfan has proven she is up to the task in supporting these students when it comes to their passion for esports. Earlier in the Spring, I reached out to get the story of the Jaguars through her eyes and the challenges her and the students face through supporting a program that competes from home. As you will see, it's not hard to understand what makes Blue Valley West tick, and that high school esports is so much more than the competitors on the server.


Head Coach Karley Shirfan
Head Coach Karley Shirfan

What is your esports programs' origin story?

Our administration reached out to us at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year asking if any teachers wanted to sponsor an Esports club. I offered since gaming is something I’ve been passionate about my entire life and thought how cool it would be to have that incorporated into a student’s school time. We first competed in the Spring Major ’23 and it was very successful. At the start of this school year, we have 80 members active in Discord with about 35-40 competing regularly. I did a lot of marketing and advertising for it. I even had an in-school meeting in the auditorium and got a lot of buy-in with my own gaming knowledge.


Did you have to overcome any challenges to get your program off the ground?

There have been challenges for sure getting it going especially with learning the website and the queue system and getting students both enrolled in Discord and HSEL for so many students. I originally tried a GroupMe, but that didn’t work well. I fortunately had several student leaders who helped manage some teams and help moderate Discord. We also luckily had funding to support as many students who wanted to play as possible so students could join for free. If we didn’t have that, we would not have nearly as many students involved (and even ones without Nintendo online can’t compete). So, I feel really fortunate to have such a great start with the club and with the help of HSEL knowing my district previously.


What has been the highlight of your school's competitive journey in HSEL thus far?

The Valorant and CS2 teams have been incredible this year – there is SO much talent to highlight. Valorant competing at [Kansas State] in the fall and then against a Japanese team [back in March] has created memories for those students they won’t ever forget and probably opened doors to scholarship applications and things to put on their college applications. They also have won awards and titles from HSEL during a few seasons, so there has been a lot of accomplishments in our first year. Seeing students communicate and organize themselves in the Discord has been fun and frustrating to watch as well. I’ve realized my whole role as a coach is a manager and hype-man. Seeing them learn how to make a plan, follow-through on the plan, and then come out victorious all without an adult with them has been such a great learning experience for them. It does make this job a bit harder and there’s not much I can do when players decide not to join in those conversations (the frustrating part), but there is growth and skill building there. A few of my players have also seen success in solo games where they’ve then performed that game at an assembly ([one student] doing clueless gamer with Smash in front of the whole student body was amazing). It gave legitimacy to students being skilled and not just “playing a game.”


What are you most looking forward to this spring season?

I am looking forward to students having their last experiences as seniors and really trying their best to finish strong. Many are graduating and I just hope they get everything they want out of it. We also elect new leadership for next year in the Spring, so our old officers are going to facilitate that and plan for new ideas for next year.


Blue Valley students outside of Hyvee Arena at night
Blue Valley West VALORANT celebrating their Sister City Showdown victory

Do you have any advice for fellow peers who are leading--or looking to lead--their school's esports program?

It is more of a time commitment the bigger you want your group to be and how many seasons/games you want to encourage. I found myself being on Discord most weeknights to help students organize and meet up on Discord so matches were played. Left to their own devices (especially freshman and sophomore) some of them were really unable to do this by themselves at night. I’ve learned a more successful program will have a coach who is hyping the group up on Discord as often as possible. Making fun channels (we have channels for cats, Pokémon, One Piece, memes, off-topic, etc) so even kids not competing at the highest level still feel part of the group and can contribute and learn from older and more experienced players. Bringing school spirit into the club is so important because there is no other visual for them in the school unless the school has a dedicated place for Esports. Let kids know gaming is more than its stigma! It is a valuable skill set and the more kids who get involved are displaying that to open up more and more programs elsewhere.


The Blue Valley West VALORANT Premier roster
The Blue Valley West VALORANT Premier roster

This club has really helped challenge me as an educator. Combining my love of gaming with my love of teaching has produced such a unique opportunity for me. I want to help combat the toxicity that occurs in gaming, especially with women gamers who so often give up learning the skills it takes to be competitive because of how poorly they are treated online. I want to encourage students to show off their talent even to so many in the building who have no idea what it is they are seeing on their screens. To be proud and confident that while they thought they were PLAYING hard, they were also WORKING hard to get better. All good things so far and I am sure I have a lot more to learn.

 

David Stone

Commissioner of Competition

HSEL, MSEL, & Youth Winner's Circle


"In esports, I found my community AND my competitive spirit. I’m so thankful for the privilege I had in school where I was able to explore my musical passion, and I want to play a role providing that same opportunity to the students now, tomorrow, and forever. I want to give students a reason to come to school, just like I had."


 

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