O’Donnell is building a successful Esports program at Discovery High

A few years ago, Jean O’Donnell was approached by Discovery High School principal Carissa Frazier about the possibility of the school participating in Esports.

Frazier took note of Esports University and its positive ramifications and knew that O’Donnell, who was herself an avid multiplayer online gamer in addition to having been a professor of forensics and college achievement for 15 years , could do the work for the school. O’Donnell and his son Chris Phillippe, also a dedicated Final Fantasy player who teaches physical science, researched the world of esports and discovered that a high school esports league would be the best avenue for Discovery.

So, at the start of the school year in 2020, O’Donnell and his son hosted an Esports Interest Meeting, and over 80 students showed up. Many students, however, lost interest when they heard how much it would cost to join the team.

“We’re a Title I school, so a lot of kids couldn’t afford it,” O’Donnell said. “We told the children that if they really wanted to play, we would find a way to pay them. But the kids really weren’t committed to it, they didn’t want to raise money and stuff like that. These children have given up.

Following the development of Discovery being one of the first programs in Polk County to host esports as part of the athletic department, the school raised approximately $50-100 per video game seat for each student per game through developing game shirts, baking cookies and selling butter. braided bread, among other fundraisers.

Additionally, one of the student-athlete’s parents owned a McDonalds, which helped sponsor the team last year, although that student and parent are no longer affiliated with the team this year.

With finances somewhat supported, the gaming system of choice was the Nintendo Switch. Favorite games were Super Smash Bros., Call of Duty and Rainbow 6.

By joining the High School Esports League – a league that has splits from northeast to southeast – Discovery students play at school, while some stay at home, competing online.

And it was all possible thanks to Discovery High School’s network manager, Kim Gillman, who was able to disable a firewall that prevented concurrency – a problem some schools in Florida are facing.

“There were a lot of hiccups to get started, but we learned a lot,” O’Donnell said. “We learned that you have to be careful with firewalls. You need to make sure you have the correct bandwidth. You need to make sure each of the devices is on the network and working.

When competing against other teams, Discover uses an app called Discord, which is a service that players can talk to via voice, video, and text. The players are in constant communication with each other.

Discovery Season Results

Last season, from September to December 2021, the Super Smash Bros. from Discovery placed sixth and qualified for the playoffs. The Valorant team also made the playoffs.

“Last year was a bit humbling,” said Discover Esports team captain Louiyi Serrano. “It was a bit hard to get used to, but we got it and now we understand what we should do. Individually we ranked pretty high.”

This year, the season started in January and ended in April and the school played in the PlayVS, an amateur Esports league.

The program has competed in Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros., Overwatch, Valorant, and Rocket League. In Super Smash Bros., the team was 18th, 32nd, and 35th out of 800 teams. The Overwatch team was 35th; while Mario Kart entrants were 38th.

Next year, in its fifth season, the program plans to play two seasons during the school year and could play in PlayVs, the High School Sports League or the Electronic Game Federation.

Three weeks ago, the Electronic Gaming Federation gave Discovery the opportunity to compete in the National High School Esports Championship at Wide World of Sports at Disney from June 17-19.

“I think esports builds the confidence of a lot of these kids,” O’Donnell said. “We have a child (who) lives in a hotel at the moment. And so he doesn’t have access to everything everyone else can do. So being on the Esports team, he’s part of something. And he has people to talk to, and he can socialize.

“He doesn’t have WiFi at his hotel, so he can stay after school with us and he can play and he can play with people his own age. And it also teaches the kids a higher order of thought because they have to come in and make a plan, execute the plan and make sure it works. It’s not just about going in there and smashing buttons.”

About Irene J. O'Donnell

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