The PlayVS Super Coach program exists to elevate and reward the coaches who go the extra mile for their programs and students. These are the pioneers, the early-adopters, the people who believe in all the things that high school esports can become. Today, we turn our focus to one of Alabama's Super Coaches, Daniel Tillman. Coach Tillman is the esports coach at McGill-Toolen Catholic School in Mobile and took one of his teams to the state championships this past fall.
Super Coach Tillman was kind enough to answer some questions for us about his experiences coaching on the PlayVS platform. Some of his answers have been lightly edited for length and are italicized.
Why did you decide to become an esports coach?
In January 2019, a student asked me if I would coach esports. I had always turned down students who had asked me this because my principal would not let us have a video game club. However, esports had just been approved as a sport by the AHSAA and specific games had been approved for play. I told him to find enough students to make a team. While he was doing that, I did some research on it and on PlayVS. I saw that League of Legends was an approved game, which excited me since I play League of Legends myself. The platform looked easy to use, so I approached my principal. At first, I treated esports like a video game club due to the availability of the students who played. I am working at my school to change the perception of esports into a sport like football or basketball. I hope that within the next few years, esports will have the same recognition and attention that other sports do.
Did you face any opposition to esports at your school?
The only real opposition I faced came from the president of the school and the school board. Once we demonstrated that the games were not shooter games, they were ok with it. The biggest problem I have faced is lack of understanding. People think of esports as a video game club and not a sport. Usually, all it takes is showing them a practice or a match and they start to get it. After I show them the pre-match scouting report spreadsheets, or they listen to our discussion between matches, they grasp it even more. Once they witness all of that and then witness the elation the students feel upon winning, or the crushing impact of a loss, they fully grasp how it is a sport.
Did you notice any benefits to your esports players as far as grades, attendance, or motivation?
I have noticed a huge increase in motivation for my players. They are motivated to make sure that they do their work and study so that their grades don’t slip. Two of my star players became ineligible this past fall due to their grades - one of them failed my English class! I told them that they wouldn’t be able to play if their grades weren’t good, but they didn’t believe it. Once grades were posted and the ineligible list came out, they were benched. They worked hard and brought their grades up and have been working hard to keep them up so that they can maintain eligibility. I have seen an increase in attention, motivation, and attendance from the one who is in my class. Other teachers tell me the same thing.
How do you set goals for your team each season?
I set different goals for my teams each season based on the members of the team. I try to be realistic based upon the students that I have and the experience with the games that they have. I want my more experienced students to make it to the playoffs and hopefully progress fairly deep into them. I work with them on overcoming solo queue habits that don’t work in organized team play. We identify a weakness or bad tendencies by studying film of our previous games. I assign them homework to review the replays of their practice matches and the videos of the actual matches. With students who were newer to the games, I want them to enjoy playing the game, learn, and work together as a team. We have team meetings and talk about what things we should work on as a team.
Do you have any specific memories you and your students still think about or bring up?
I remember one Rocket League match in the Spring 2019 season. We were playing and lost the first few rounds in close ones. The team clicked after that second loss and after that they played like a team, rather than as 3 decently skilled players. We were so wrapped up in the close losses that we lost track of the number of rounds. The other team lost track as well. We kept playing and started winning with the third round of the match. We won 3 straight and reverse swept the other team. It was an amazing experience. Then I looked at the PlayVS website. Apparently we had miscounted the matches and played 3 rounds before we won a game. We lost the match. In the end, victory or defeat didn’t matter. That moment was the one that changed the team and started us toward the path of making it to the finals in the Spring 2019 season. That moment where everyone clicked and it all came together was special.
You can catch Coach Tillman leading his teams deep into the playoffs again this spring. And, keep an eye on this space for more spotlights on the coaches helping esports thrive in high schools around the nation.