One of the best sports teams in Rio Arriba County doesn’t play basketball or volleyball.
The McCurdy Charter School esports, or competitive video game team, had a chance to be one of the top teams in the state while competing against all levels of high schools. But like all other sports, their season came to an early end amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
McCurdy’s esports team competes in a game called Rocket League, which can best be described as soccer, but with rocket-powered cars. Games are 3-on-3 and last for five minutes, with a sudden death overtime if necessary. In competition, the first team to win three games wins the match. A Rio Rancho website and YouTube channel have some videos from their competitions.
Statewide, more than 50 schools and over 900 students participate in esports, according to the New Mexico Activities Association’s Dusty Young.
Last fall, McCurdy’s athletic director asked math teacher Robert Nevarez if he would coach the team. Nevarez then began gathering students for the team. Nevarez said team members also take part in activities ranging from the basketball team to the track team.
“I’m not a computer guy,” said Nevarez. “These are video games that my kids probably could tell you more about the game than I would ever know. But they were looking for a coach to head it up.”
Team Captain Kordero Talachy heard about the team over the school’s intercom last fall. The sophomore did not expect much when he went to a meeting. He was surprised to see that they were prepared for a full league and future opponents with other schools, including 5A schools that McCurdy would never face in most varsity sports.
Talachy said he has spent more than 3,000 hours playing Rocket League, and had played in some online tournaments before getting involved with the school’s team.
Computer issues doomed McCurdy in their first match, and they had to take a forfeit loss.
But after that first week, the Bobcats went on to win five straight matches. Their game record is 15-4, and would be 15-1 without the forfeit, having lost just one game. Despite the forfeit, McCurdy ranked No. 14 in the state.
Talachy said that the team does not have any set strategies or positions when they play.
“Everyone has their chance on offense to score,” Talachy said. “No one stays back, or stays forward all the time.”
Without the forfeit loss, both Nevarez and Talachy think McCurdy would have been one of the top teams in the state. Standings and records are not yet publicly available, but according to Nevarez, both No. 7 Early College Academy and No. 10 Digital Arts and Technology have just one loss, with McCurdy defeating both teams.
And they are disappointed that they will not be able to compete against any top teams, with the state tournament canceled.
It may seem odd that even esports gets canceled during the pandemic. Playing video games is one of the few things that can continue during a statewide stay-at-home order. But too many students don’t have reliable internet access. Matches are played from school with everyone together, to ensure the best connectivity. Continuing from everybody’s home had too many obstacles.
“All of us were pretty sad about it,” said Talachy. “Because, I think we had a really good shot at winning the state title in esports.”
During quarantine, the Bobcats are mostly playing by themselves, Talachy said. They have not had any official team practices, but they are keeping their skills up to par.
“We don’t have formal practice, just simply because these players, they’re playing enough already on their own,” Nevarez said.
But on a sophomore-heavy team with no seniors, both Nevarez and Talachy are excited for their future, even if they can’t finish their first season.