Two Generations of Gamers Take the Title
It’s no surprise that gamers of different generations play different kinds of games, but the key to success has always been the same.
Chandler Johnston wasn’t sure what to expect when the principal at Lake Cormorant High School, Mississippi told him that the students at his school wanted to form a Super Smash Bros.™ Ultimate team. The algebra teacher had experience with esports growing up – he played in regional Halo tournaments around the world as a military brat – but had never coached a team of his own.
Coming from a gaming background, it didn’t help that all his players could beat him at Smash. Setting aside his ego as a competitive gamer, Johnston focused his energy on coaching the LCHS team on skills that are valuable across all games and genres.
“I may not be able to point out moves that will work in a specific moment, but I can catch my players when they’re getting spooked or getting too aggressive. That helps clear their heads so they can watch their opponents for mistakes and exploit them.”
"If our fundamentals are good, we’ll be good to go.”
Johnston has taken a flexible approach to coaching, varying his personal involvement as the situation demands. For times when hands-on support is too much, Johnston encourages his players to support each other on the fly.
“My guys are great at reading the room. While one of my players is in the thick of it, the others will either help them get in the zone or offer feedback. We make sure at the beginning of a game that everyone is in the right headspace.”
With a communication-first mentality, LCHS became the Mississippi Smash state champions for the Fall 2021 season. But that’s just the beginning. While Johnston took more of a back seat approach with Smash, he lights up as he talks excitedly about taking the driver’s seat with the new addition of Mario Kart 8™ Deluxe to the PlayVS roster.
“I’m better at Smash now, but I still can’t beat my guys. With Mario Kart, the opposite is true. I have played MK since I was three on the Nintendo 64. I have played Mario Kart 8 since it came out. I know the tracks, I know the strategies, I know the shortcuts.”
“Ever since they began to win, they’ve become more excited about showing up to practice, and even around school they’re more involved and motivated.”
While Johnston knows the game like the back of his hand, the wisdom he shares extends beyond the tracks of the Mushroom Kingdom.
“I’m a big racing fan in general. I don’t watch a ton of sports, but I love following Formula 1.”
Johnston explains that while knowledge of tricks can turn the tide at snap moments, it’s the big-picture mentality that wins matches.
“I teach my kids racing fundamentals. There’s a set of six races, three sets per match. There’s a lot of RNG involved, but If we lose a match, that’s over 18 races. You can’t just blame that on a lucky blue shell. If our fundamentals are good, we’ll be good to go.”
The benefits of practicing esports extend beyond gameday, however. Johnston has observed his students harnessing their wins in the classroom as well.
“Ever since they began to win, they’ve become more excited about showing up to practice, and even around the school they’re more involved and motivated.”
“My generation came of age right before all these careers out of video games became a reality. Now, there’s all sorts of options.”
Though they took the trophy home last season, Johnston and his players aren’t letting that win get to their heads. Instead, they’re practicing harder than ever.
“Seeing that more schools have joined the league – new schools we haven’t played before – the pressure is on. I fully believe that the teams we beat went home and practiced and are gearing up to take that title back.”
Still, the path ahead looks bright for the LCHS players – some were even approached by talent scouts from colleges after last season’s win. While Johnston grew up playing video games for fun, his team has a shot to build a future with them.
“My generation came of age right before all these careers out of video games became a reality.” Johnston points out. “Now, there’s all sorts of options. You can be a shoutcaster. You can get a scholarship to go to college if you’re good enough. And if you’re fairly entertaining, you don’t even have to be that good. You can gain a following on Twitch.”
Though the opportunities in gaming are growing at a rate that can be staggering to older generations, it’s reassuring to know that the same principles that lead to success in any field apply to esports as well.