Kentwood— Junior Kymen Cartwright is the two-time Madden NFL champion.
Senior Landon Saavedra smashes the competition in Super Smash Brothers.
The two East Kentwood High School esports gamers use their quick thinking, laser-like responses and video-game savviness to take on any fellow gamer. “I think this is going to be our best year since 2016,” said Kymen, looking ahead to the 2023-2024 season.
East Kentwood has one of the top-ranked esports teams in the nation. Banners with championship titles for games like Madden, Valorant and League of Legends hang in an esports lab at the school. A team of nearly 100 students will soon begin the next season of racking up scores and rising from level to level, working together to clinch titles and take home trophies.
“It’s a really good program. Esports is about video games and stuff and that’s my biggest strength and hobby and I love the coach so much,” Kymen said.
That beloved coach is Bill Dixon, a computer programming teacher who has fostered the team’s growth since its inception in 2016 from 10 students the first year to 92 last year. Dixon had to make cuts from 124 gamers who tried out last year.
“It just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” he said. “The number of kids being serviced by esports is bigger than any sport here.”
‘I’m friends with the whole esports team and the coach. The stronger connection we have the better our program will be.’Junior Kymen Cartwright
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Students compete in online and in-person tournaments extending throughout the school year. The team has four PlayVS tournaments championships and three consecutive titles through the Michigan High School Esports Foundation.
“A lot of time it’s like herding cats,” Dixon said with a laugh, referring to gamers involved in different games and tournaments, playing as teams and individuals, on PCs and Nintendo Switches. He’s more of a facilitator for natural student leaders who step up and lead strategies. “I play more psychologist, cheerleader and organizer.”
The level of district support adds to the popularity at EK. A new lab with an esports stage and streaming technology to host tournaments will open in the high school in the next few months, bringing even more growth opportunities, Dixon said.
Dixon, who grew up gaming on Atari and Nintendo, said he loves that esports provides a competitive outlet for students who may not be involved in other sports or extracurricular programs. He sees huge potential, noting that the League of Legends World Championship has drawn in more online viewers than the Super Bowl.
While many students game from home, in-person tournaments are action-packed and East Kentwood students have participated in events at Eastern Michigan University, Oakland University and University of Michigan-Flint.
Five former East Kentwood gamers are now involved in esports programs at University of Michigan, Grand Valley State University and Michigan State University. Esports scholarships have become more common too, Dixon said.
Back to the Lab
Kymen started playing Madden for East Kentwood as a freshman. He said he loves the competition and skills he’s developed. He’s interested in video game design as a career.
“You can make new friends. It’s a good skill for math and in the real world,” he said. “I’m friends with the whole esports team and the coach. The stronger connection we have the better our program will be.”
Landon is looking forward to another year playing Super Smash Brothers as the character Bowser Junior. “I grew up with this game, one of the first I had on my Wii,” she said. “I have an absurd amount of hours on this game.”
Esports becomes an extension of the school day, Landon said, with time devoted to tallying up higher and higher scores and having fun. After summer break, she is ready to gather with fellow gamers in the lab once again.
“It’s very exciting and when it becomes an actual routine, it becomes really homey. I feel at home.”
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