PBHS Esports Club strives to enter statewide competition
Posted on 10/10/2023
Alejandro Rivetti and Cayden Larkins

Poplar Bluff High School recently launched an esports club with a renewed determination to join the fast-growing statewide competition circuit this year.

The coaching positions are voluntary and the equipment is on loan, but there are a few leads to secure start-up funding with a contingency plan in place, proponents report, plus a whole lot of student interest in competitive multiplayer video gaming.

“Scouts are recruiting at state tournaments and giving students a full ride to college, opening up more avenues to attain a higher education for kids who maybe didn’t have an opportunity to go before,” explained sponsor Cody Cassinger, PBHS Help Desk assistant. “Kids that compete in esports are 10 percent more likely to get scholarships than students who compete in athletics – because it’s not overly saturated right now, and colleges are trying to build their teams.”

With what Cassinger described as overwhelming support from High School administration, he whipped together a sign-up booth during Club Day at the end of August and around 60 students expressed interest, which he estimates may have climbed closer to 100, counting the follow-up inquiries.

Tryouts were held shortly thereafter and about a dozen students have made the initial team, meeting after school four days per week at the Help Desk. Cassinger, along with voluntary assistant Joe Salamone of the district's Instructional Technology Department, have lent out their personal Nintendo Switches in order for students to begin practicing.

The consoles will enable the team to enter the Super Smash Bros. tournament hosted in January by the nonprofit Missouri Scholastic Esports Federation (MOSEF). However, the goal is to compete by the winter season in December, if five gaming computers capable of streaming are obtained for the school to hold additional tryouts to vie online in Apex Legends.

Organizers are actively seeking grant opportunities to meet the sign-up deadline, and have received a couple of contributions via DonorsChoose thus far. “Providing an esports option ensures no talent goes untapped,” the project description states in part. With a budget request of approximately $2,000, the entry goes on to say that the acquisition of the devices “ensures that every student finds their place to shine… aligning with the school’s mission to foster well-rounded, engaged learners.”

While the Junior High has a club with two game systems purchased out of the building budget, the funds necessary to compete in the middle school league have not yet been secured, according to advisers. The Poplar Bluff Technical Career Center also has future plans to sponsor a club with refurbished computers for upperclassmen and adult students of area sending schools interested in competing, beginning with the League of Legends.

“We’re here to wade through all the paperwork and red tape, and we’re gonna try to make this happen,” Cassinger continued. “The High School needs to be that flagship, and then we can branch out from there.”

Some students are also interested in developing commentating and audiovisual skills to perform shoutcasting over Twitch or YouTube. “It’s not just playing video games anymore, there are multibillion-dollar organizations handing out millions in grants each year," Cassinger noted. He pointed out that participants develop the same sense of camaraderie as with other extra-curricular activities and, he said, they exercise each day to avoid becoming sedentary by taking laps around the catwalk, working up to a mile.

Going on year 12 serving as youth pastor at LifeLine Church in Fisk, Cassinger has always had a “passion for helping teenagers [work] through things,” he said. He graduated from the computer maintenance and repair program at the TCC under instructor Tony Kirkley. When Kirkley transferred to the Help Desk, servicing student and staff laptops, the teacher recruited Cassinger. Students enrolled in the elective learn basic software troubleshooting and can test for computer literacy certifications through TestOut.

“My goal is to have a trophy in the trophy case with Poplar Bluff Esports right there,” added Salamone, who plans to split duties with fellow computer technician Kyle Pearson, once the team expands. “If we can figure out a way to merge our passion for technology, and Cody’s passion for helping kids, the program will have longevity – and persist well after all of us.”

Founded in 2019, MOSEF has a membership of over 200 schools. Esports is presently listed as ‘emerging’ under the Missouri State High School Activities Association. The Three Rivers College Esports team is in its third year competing through the National Junior College Athletic Association.


Cutline: Top-ranked students, Alejandro Rivetti (left) and Cayden Larkins, practice playing Super Smash Bros. on Tuesday, Oct. 3, at PBHS.

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