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How Catholic Central Took Esports To The Next Level

In the evolving landscape of competitive gaming, Detroit Catholic Central's Esports team has emerged as a national powerhouse.

While traditional sports have long held the spotlight, the rise of Esports has ushered in a new era of thrilling competition, and CC's participation in this phenomenon is nothing short of remarkable.

Founded on March 13, 2020, coinciding with the onset of the COVID-19 shutdown, the Detroit Catholic Central Esports team would create a new landscape for competitive gaming.

Read on to learn all about the evolution of esports at Catholic Central High School, and what this rise in popularity means for students in the years to come.

Get To Know Esports – Because It’s Just Getting Started

For the uninitiated, esports refers to competitive video games, where individuals or teams compete in various video game titles.

Unlike traditional sports, esports leverages the power of technology, connecting players and fans from around the world in a virtual space. CC Esports currently fields teams in Rocket League, Super Smash Brothers Ultimate, Valorant, and Overwatch 2.

Esports is the only sport that competes year-round. There are two seasons: fall and spring. Each is eight weeks long, followed by state playoffs. The esports team competes in two state championships per year.

One of the unique aspects of CC's Esports team is its ability to foster a sense of community among students with a shared passion for gaming. According to the MHSEL website, 45% of students involved in esports haven’t participated in any other school sport or activity and their participation yields improvements in socializing, communication, and leadership skills.

The team provides an inclusive environment where players can hone their skills, collaborate with teammates, and form lasting connections.

Esports, much like traditional sports, encourages teamwork, strategy, and communication, skills that extend beyond competition. Students practice and compete daily and roughly 25 students are involved in esports at CC.

How Esports Came To Be At CC

The school’s Head Coach, Mr. Stephen Juncaj ’18, founded the program in 2020 while attending the University of Michigan – Dearborn as a freshman and coaching a semi-professional team called V8 eSports that played mostly Fortnite.

Despite coaching a successful team, Mr. Juncaj was getting burned out from gaming and needed a change. He came back to CC around September and talked to Mrs. Levns, who was his Graphic Design teacher in high school. She floated out the idea of an e-gaming club with Mr. Juncaj as the club moderator. She mentioned that if he was interested, he should reach out to Mr. Mike Carrier ‘06, Director of Student Activities

In late September, Mr. Carrier emailed Mr. Juncaj, telling him to hang tight and that they would get the ball rolling on e-gaming soon. Then, in early October, Mr. Juncaj met with CC for what he thought was a small meeting with Mr. Carrier. However, when he arrived, he was brought into the conference room with the entire school administration and put at the head of the table.

He was prepared, though, and handed out information on e-gaming, or what he wanted to call it: esports. Many of his ideas were backed by CC’s Athletic Director, Aaron Babicz ‘93.

“Mr. Babicz was the one pushing for esports and he wanted it under sports. He had been pushing for an esports team for four years before we met,” stated Mr. Juncaj.

In January of 2020, Mr. Juncaj was hired as CC’s first Head Esports Coach. He began doing research and initiating what the program would look like at Catholic Central. He planned out what games and leagues should be played and different aspects that needed to be considered.

Eventually, he came up with a proposal and it was approved. Mr. Babicz made it a varsity sport from the beginning – not just a club sport.

COVID-19 Shutdown: A Blessing In Disguise

On March 13, 2020, the day of the COVID-19 shutdown, Mr. Juncaj had just finished setting up all of the gaming computers in the library and was getting ready for tryouts when the school announced they would be shut down for two weeks – or so they thought.

The only school sport that wasn’t shut down was esports. Mr. Babicz called Mr. Juncaj and said, ‘I need you to carry the torch for sports at CC.”

He held a virtual tryout over Discord, a team speak app. Eventually, the team started to compete with whatever Mr. Juncaj could find online – high school and amateur tournaments.

They won their first big tournament that was hosted by Lawerence Tech in Rocket League in May of 2020 against Divine Child, CC’s Catholic League rival.

After that, in August of 2020, the school resumed with a hybrid model. In March of 2021, the Shamrock Esports team moved into the esports lab.

Since then, the team has won four state championships. They were also recognized second nationally in the 2021 Rocket League Tournament.

Over the past ten years, at least 10 students have received college scholarships, including Tristin Toma ’22 at Oakland University for playing Super Smash Brothers Ultimate and Melvin Mungai ’23 for playing Overwatch at Michigan Tech.

From Esports To ESPN and Beyond

Esports at Catholic Central reached its pinnacle during a much-anticipated inaugural Esports Assembly Match. This momentous occasion saw the entire student body come alive as CC's Rocket League team took on Macomb Dakota in a 4-0 victory.

The electrifying event not only captivated students and staff but resonated far beyond the school walls, making waves on major sports platforms such as ESPNSportsCenter, and House of Highlights. The video quickly went viral, gaining over 25 million views across all social media channels.

Shortly after the successful Assembly Match, the Shamrocks won the MHSEL State Championship in Super Smash Brothers Ultimate for the Fall of 2023, securing their berth in the national tournament scheduled for the upcoming spring.

The future holds promising for CC’s Esports team with many opportunities for growth and recognition. While it is still early days for Esports commercially, the signs of mainstream adoption are everywhere and Catholic Central can proudly claim a prominent place in the past, present, and future of the sport.

For more information about esports at CC, please contact Mr. Juncaj at sjuncaj@catholiccentral.net.

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