OAKLAND — Messalonskee High School’s esports team has quickly turned from a pipe dream to a model program.

Not even four months into its first year of existence, Regional School Unit 18’s high school was selected as one of 25 schools across the country to receive a free, fully equipped esports lab from the High School Esports League (HSEL) and Army National Guard.

And it comes with the bonus of a STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math, curriculum.

“I just applied for it as a whim,” said Skip Bessey, a Jobs for Maine Graduates Specialist at Messalonskee High School and retired U.S. Army member who wrote the application. “Lo and behold, I heard from them a few weeks later.”

Messalonskee High School launched its esports program earlier this year. Seniors Evan DeMott, David Cunningham and Wyatt Patterson spearheaded the program. As sophomores, they started playing the game Rocket League together. They planned to get a team playing last year, but the pandemic derailed it.

After students worked with Messalonskee High School Principal Paula Callan and Nathan Davis, a math teacher at the school, a team was launched. Davis is the coach. Bessey was not involved with the team before hearing about the application through his Army connections, “but will be now.”

Evan DeMott, a member of the Messalonskee High School esports team, practices the game Rocket League in January at his Fairfield home. DeMott and other team members have played three games so far this spring season. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file Buy this Photo

This spring, Messalonskee High School is fielding a Rocket League Team with Play VS, an official high school esports league sanctioned last summer by the Maine Principals’ Association, the state’s governing body for high school sports. Esports is growing throughout the state and worldwide.

Callan said she found out about the winning announcement on the same day as everyone else through a video chat with the grant funders.

“We were thrilled to see that grant,” Callan said. “It’s a two-pronged purpose. One is to generate the interest in esports to get more kids exposed to the opportunity, but also with the grant comes a free copy of a STEM curriculum which we don’t have here, so I’m excited to delve into that.”

The STEM curriculum will be taught by existing faculty members in science, technology and mathematics. The curriculum will not be offered next year because it will come in the summer, but the goal is to integrate it into existing lessons down the line.

The Messalonskee esports team has played three matches so far. There are six students involved. Players have had to bring their own monitors and consoles back and forth, but the $10,000 esports lab will open up the program to more students.

“This grant should ease all those issues,” Davis said. “It should get kids involved that weren’t able to in the past.”

Getting the lab will be an event in itself. Generation Esports’ HSEL Roadshow will make a stop in Oakland on May 10, when the school will receive its lab. The school will receive new computers, monitors and accessories. The HSEL is offering a new enhanced league in the form of a STEM learning curriculum to educate students on how to use the lab. The actual lab building day will be a lesson for students in itself.

The lab will likely be in Davis’ classroom for the remainder of the year, but the school is actively looking for another space.

Generation Esports director of customer success Ben DePaoli said there were over 3,000 applicants for the grant to build the lab. The lab includes six monitors, accessories and a year of unlimited passes to the HSEL. The league has existed for eight years.

“We were looking at schools that probably did not have a proper avenue to success to gain the money they needed to build an esports lab,” DePaoli said.

The application process included longform answers that helped inform which 25 schools would get the lab grant.

“Messalonskee High School stood out as a group of teachers and students who were hungry for the opportunity to start an esports program, but lacked the funding to get started,” HSEL marketing director Morgan Merrill said in an email. “We are thrilled to be able to provide them with the equipment and knowledge they need to start their esports program which, in turn, will provide their students with all the benefits and opportunities that come from high school esports.”

There are 15 schools partnered with the HSEL across the state, including nearby Waterville High School. HSEL is not sanctioned by the MPA, assistant executive director Michael Bisson said. Approximately 30 schools are involved in the Play VS, MPA sponsored league.

Come late spring, Messalonskee High School will have a dedicated, state of the art esports lab.

“I think there’s more interest once we get these machines running,” Davis said. “Once we open it up to everybody, I think we’re going to see those numbers jump.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.