In its inaugural year of creation, the Elkhart Elks Esports team, known as ‘Rollin,’ rose to become state champions and the state’s most dominant team.
What started as a fun casual activity between friends developed into a competitive gaming space for Elkhart’s Roberto Gomez-Gonzalez, Brice Flynn, Kollin Peiffer and Sean Carr.
Esports is competitive video gaming. It can be traced back to the early ’70s when players competed in the game “Spacewar,” designed in 1962. The winner took home a subscription to Rolling Stones magazine.
Fast forward 50 years and Esports has become an important part of the video game industry. Esports' net worth, as an industry, has surpassed $1 billion and is expected to be worth three times as much by 2025. Not to mention the payout for professional gamers has surpassed $300 million in prior years.
That is the possible trajectory Elkhart students found themselves on when coaches Dustin Crawford and Brandon Franklin began planning how they could bring an Esports team to Elkhart a year ago. Both coaches being longtime gamers, they began to bring the idea to fruition.
It started with a few Nintendo Switches and TVs they would use as a training ground for interested prospects. After gauging interest and conducting tryouts for their select teams, what finally emerged was one of the state’s best Esports teams.
“They don’t understand what they accomplished fully,” Crawford said. “I know it’s important to them, but they don’t understand how good they are. It’s unheard of to win state in the first year of a program. I want people to know how hard it was for these guys to come in and only win, but to do it in a dominant fashion.”
There’s a different level of chaos Mario Kart racers must prepare for compared to casual races. Maps are randomized, so they had to be sufficient at a wide range of stages to win as a team.
“You’re focused a lot more,” Peiffer said. Sometimes your mind can slip playing a game like this. You have to learn different advantages and how to incorporate those strategies.”
They began playing officially during the fall semester. Once they adjusted to the competitive field, they all developed a sense of confidence that created a bit of intimidation in the other teams.
“Even in the state championship I thought it was a big gap between my guys and the rest of the field,” Crawford said. "Most teams knew once they saw Rollin they’re pretty much taking the loss. That’s how it is. We’ve developed a reputation already.”
That reputation was on display on the grand stage as Elkhart swept United High School in a best-of-five series during the state championship. Coach Crawford admittedly teared up afterward seeing what his team was able to accomplish in a year span.
“I want to see this program continue to grow,” Crawford said. “Esports reaches a type of kid that maybe athletics, band or theater doesn’t. I want to see that opportunity available for students that are coming up.”
Their captain, Gomez-Gonzalez, echoed those sentiments. Despite it being his senior year and only contributing one year to the program, he was instrumental in setting up tryouts and a competitive atmosphere with the team.
“I would love to see my students start to get recognized by universities and junior colleges,” Crawford said. “They do have an opportunity to do this collegiately. I want Elkhart to get on the radar as a launching ground. When we talk about creating that winning atmosphere, I want us to be one of the first schools they're looking at.”