Windermere High hosts first in-person high school esports tournament

Windermere High hosted the FASA PlayVS state championships — a multiplayer team video game competition.

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There are few things in this world as nerve-racking as being in front of a crowd — let alone having to speak, perform or compete. At the same time, though, doing those same things in front of that crowd can be the most exhilarating feeling — especially when they are cheering you on. 

For the first time since the introduction of esports at the high school level in Florida, esports athletes, coaches and fans were able to feel the nerves and excitement of a live crowd during the in-person 2024 FASA PlayVS esports state championships. 

Hosted at the Windermere High gymnasium Saturday, April 27, the first-of-its-kind competition saw fans, friends and family come together to see the best esports teams in the state get crowned in their respective games. 

“I’m ecstatic,” said Steve McHale, the esports lead director for Orange County Public Schools. “To just see the kids’ reactions and … see them have the chance to put what they do on stage — in front of their parents, in front of their friends and peers — it’s just awesome. At the end of the day, these kids are celebrating what they love to do, and that’s all that matters. So, helping to give them a stage to do that is amazing.”

The event saw two teams from West Orange and Southwest Orange County take home a state title. Dr. Phillips High took down West Orange High in a thrilling come-from-behind state-title win in “Mario Kart.”

“It was an incredible opportunity to get that win in our first actual match in person,” Dr. Phillips esports coach Mason Corbin said. “To see how an event like this works and seeing the crowd get hyped was definitely a great experience for us. I wish we could have more matches in person, because we’re not used to it, so it makes it a little bit harder for the player. But once we got those nerves out … our crowd really helped us.”

Those same pre-game jitters happened for Windermere High junior John Bueno in the Wolverines’ Rocket League state championship win over Timber Creek High. 

“Honestly, I was more excited than anything to just be playing for this championship,” Bueno said. “I really wanted to bring home one the big trophies this year. … I was kind of nervous at the beginning being in front of the crowd. But once I got settled in, it was all good. When the game started, I was able to just let the nerves out.”

Beyond the competition on the main stage, there were various activities set up to entertain those in attendance, including a trivia competition and a virtual reality demo by Full Sail University.

“I really liked the atmosphere they built for the event,” Bueno said. “I thought the VR station was cool and several different set-ups like the gaming station or the big beanbag chairs, I thought it was a really cool idea to implement different things that you could do when you weren’t watching the games.”

The atmosphere, which created a half-convention, half-competition feel inside the gymnasium, was a crowd-pleaser for those students, family and fans in attendance. As esports continues to grow at the high school level, McHale expects more events on the horizon. 

“We’re going to start having more of a traditional sports set up and have schools going to other schools to do in-person matches to where you can bring a crowd out,” he said. “We’re also going to start hosting tournaments for each of the different games, like our May 11 tournament. We’ll be going over to Horizon High School for our ‘Super Smash Bros.’ county championships. In the fall, you’ll be seeing a lot of this stuff happen, and then you will keep seeing state championships in-person like this one.” 

Events also serve to showcase the work and talent that these student-athletes put into their crafts. Ultimately, they can be catalysts to help grow esports at the high school level. 

“An event like this, being the first of its kind will actually help us get more support from the people that we need to get our support from,” Corbin said. “Taking this event and putting it in front of the School Board, showing them that we’re here and this is popular, can get them to put the support behind it needed to figure out how to grow it and make it better. Eventually, (it can help) get these kids into the collegiate level, get them some scholarships and get things rolling to really make it bigger than any other sport in the state.”

As high school esports continue down this path of growth, players are optimistic the support that follows will make the experience even better. 

“This event is just the beginning,” Bueno said. “As time goes, the schools will start to see esports more and more like an actual sport — rather than just a game we play for fun. Hopefully, that means we get a facility to train in like pro or college teams have. That sort of support will help the experience for players, and the earlier we can have access to that sort of set-up and develop as players at the high school level, then we’ll be a lot more prepared for college or even playing as a professional.”



Sam Albuquerque

A native of João Pessoa, Brazil, Sam Albuquerque moved in 1997 to Central Florida as a kid. After earning a communications degree in 2016 from the University of Central Florida, he started his career covering sports as a producer for a local radio station, ESPN 580 Orlando. He went on to earn a master’s degree in editorial journalism from Northwestern University, before moving to South Carolina to cover local sports for the USA Today Network’s Spartanburg Herald-Journal. When he’s not working, you can find him spending time with his lovely wife, Sarah, newborn son, Noah, and dog named Skulí.

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