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Esports Coach Michael Wilt talks about his team’s recent win and more

CHS esports Smash Bros Team won the state championship title against Middletown on December 15, rounding out the season as the only undefeated team in New York State.

The win is even more impressive considering the esports team is relatively new. Special Education Teacher Michael Wilt, an avid video gamer himself, started the club in 2021 with approximately 30 students. 

It wasn’t long before he realized there was some serious talent in the room. Students met in the library once a week and held Smash Bros battles, pitting players against each other to establish ranks. At the top of the ranking would be the champion who could be challenged by a top ranked player. 

“Shortly after starting the club for fun, I realized that we should be competing competitively against other schools,” said Mr. Wilt. 

With 90 percent of teenagers playing video games, it made sense to bring the sport to the high school. It was in 2018 that the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) first recognized esports as an official sport, with more than 8,600 high schools having teams.

After doing some research, Mr. Wilt discovered a popular online platform that other high schools were using called “PlayVS.” He took his idea to CHS Principal Laura Tarlo and Athletic Director Jeff Huneau who helped him register two teams: Smash Bros and Rocket League. They recommended that esports be confirmed as a sport, which was approved by Superintendent Peggy O’Shea and the Board of Education.

Without a room to house the team due to space constraints, Mr. Wilt partnered up with the Connect Center community center in Cohoes, which is their homebase.

With recognition on social media and their own jerseys, they were ready to start gaming.

“I now have multiple teams making playoffs each season and now our Smash Bros players are currently the undefeated state champions!” said Mr. Wilt.

Who is your typical esport team member? What has been exciting to discover is that there is no “typical” esports player. We have a diverse group of players from all different backgrounds and grade levels. Some players are solely dedicated to esports as their extracurricular activity, while other players are involved in multiple clubs and activities, including other sports.

Do a lot of other high schools have an esports team? Yes. In the immediate area, Watervliet, Green Island, Troy, Schenectady, Mohonasen, and Glens Falls have teams, to name a few.  Many local colleges have esports programs, too,  such as UAlbany, Hudson Valley Community College, Russell Sage, Siena and Bryant & Stratton, and some of them even offer scholarships. 

What do you say to people who say esports isn’t a sport? I understand the pushback about how esports shouldn’t be considered a sport. A lot of the arguments around this topic usually comes down to people having different definitions on what a sport is. Some people use the definition that sports must include physical exertion of a certain degree, while others say that that is purely arbitrary. I would say that an important thing to remember is that it is called esports specifically for a reason. Esports and sports are both about people playing games competitively. For esports, the games are electronic, while in sports they are physical. I don’t see why esports and sports can’t live in parallel with each other as both being an avenue for kids to play games competitively.  

What is your coaching style? Part of the culture I instill in my players as their coach is that they need to bring their absolute best and always look to improve. They have to work together as a team, not just in terms of communicating, but also with building each other up. Professionalism is standard. I hold all of my players to both during practice and during games. 

If you stop by the Connect Center to watch a game, you will see that not only are the players dedicated to playing their absolute best, but they are also very proud to represent Cohoes. Here’s to the ‘24 spring season of esports!

The esports team is always looking for donations. If you have any gaming devices you’d like to donate, please contact Mr. Wilt at mwilt@cohoes.org.

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