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  • Writer's pictureTye Ojala

The Clarke Esports Team

The Clarke Esports team is one of the most competitive teams on campus. They consistently finished top 5 in competitions as they did in the Call of Duty LAN (Local Area Network) competition in the Fall semester. The Valorant team would start down 0-2 in the Championship match to Ohio Northern University but would come back to complete the reverse sweep and win the MEC Fall Championship and win the first Valorant title for the Clarke Esports team. The Pride in the Fall would bring home championships in Fortnite and Call of Duty and also a runner-up trophy in FIFA to finish out the semester. These fantastic finishes have allowed the Esports team to gain popularity amongst the student body but also build up their recruiting classes. With all this being said Henry Johnston the Esports coach at Clarke gave some great insight on the preparation of the team going into matches and even his own upbringing in the gaming world.

 

 


1. What inspired you to pursue a career in esports coaching?

To be quite honest, becoming an esports coach wasn’t my intent. In college, I studied Digital Media Production, with the goal of becoming a video producer or content manager for a professional esports’ organization. I had fallen in love with esports throughout college when my university started our esports club my freshman year, and that’s where I combined my passion for the arts with my passion for esports, and it became a passion for creating and telling stories. After graduating, I was mainly applying for esports video production jobs to get my start. While applying for jobs, I saw lots of “Head Esports Coach” positions, and I thought to myself, why not? After a couple days of applying to esports head coach jobs, I had applied to the position at Clarke, and a week later I was offered the job.

 

2. Can you share your experience/background in competitive gaming or coaching?

Like many people in the esports industry, I grew up playing videos all the time. From my youth years playing Pokémon, to my teenage years when I had gotten into console gaming with the PlayStation 3; that was my hobby when I got home from school: hopping online and playing games with my friends. I was always a semi-decent player in any game that I tried, but I never looked into anything more significant, and I really didn’t know what esports really was, and at the time, it wasn’t nearly as popular or well-known as it is now. In 2014, I started to engage with the esports space, and I started to watch professional Counter-Strike, which had become my initial look into understanding what esports is. Heading off to college, my roommate was coincidentally almost a professional Call of Duty player; he had a contract before the professional league raised the age limit required. Later in my freshman year, there was a callout meeting for starting an esports club on campus, and about 15 people showed up in a room to see what we could make of it. That was the start of my true foray into esports. From that point, I started truly practicing and competing in the early years of collegiate esports. I competed in Call of Duty as well as Rocket League. At that time, our university’s athletic conference, the Big East, had an interest in esports, and they started conference competition. My sophomore year I had won our conference championship for Rocket League, and for the next two years in Call of Duty our team was regarded as one of the Top 20 teams in all of collegiate. I was very fortunate to have very skilled teammates that just happened to attend our school at the time.

 

3. How do you incorporate feedback from players into your coaching strategies?

I welcome any feedback or criticism from my students. What’s unique about esports compared to other traditional sports is that esports is ever-changing. Almost every two weeks there is a game update that changes how we play some aspect of that game. Esports games dramatically change, and fundamentally change often. For example, we always compete on the newest Call of Duty title, and there is a new one that comes out every year. Mechanically speaking, Call of Duty is played the same way, but we’ve seen format changes, we’ve seen team changes where the game has transitioned from a 4v4 game to a 5v5 game, then back to a 4v4 game. There are games that add new guns and add new maps and adjust the strengths and weaknesses of certain parts of the game, to where you always need to stay on top of the changes to know what the best gameplan to win is. I don’t have the time that I used to, to invest in playing every game that we compete in to fully understand every little change, so I rely on my players to offer their perspectives and advice on what they think is best, and I will always encourage my athletes to take charge whenever they can. Outside of ‘in-game’ coaching, I also welcome feedback on how I can improve as a coach for building our program, our culture, and general outlook, since I only just recently graduated college myself and do not have that much experience working as a coach full-time, so if my athletes want me to improve myself to make their experience better, I do my best to incorporate their feedback.

 

4. How do you handle the pressure and stress of high intense competitions?

More than any other traditional sport, esports is at the end of the day a mental game. There is constant downtime in many sports, and the utilization of each player is not constant. For example, there are few players who will play every minute of a basketball game, and not every wide receiver will catch the ball on the football field, and they might not even get a target. There’s also lots of downtime between halves and with timeouts and with substitutions and deep rosters that teams utilize. In esports, you need to have constant 100% focus, since you are actively playing every minute of a series. If you aren’t mentally prepared for what that takes, especially with how you might be impacted by momentum or morale, you will be put in a tough situation. We are fortunate to have very skilled players and very strong teams in our program, so we often actively compete against some of the best teams across the nation. Every week we could be playing a team of our caliber or stronger. Mental toughness is something that is so personal for each athlete, and I strive to share my experiences and my understanding of my own mental when I competed, in hopes that my athletes can use what I learned to improve their own mental, to prepare themselves for those high-pressure situations. We’ve been in many situations where we’ve lost games by one single mistake from one individual, or we’ve pulled out big wins from seemingly nowhere. Mental fortitude is something we are always actively working on and discussing, and lots of that revolves around a strong team culture and team environment, where athletes can support each other when things start to go wrong or when frustration keeps in.

 

5. How do you improve an individual’s skills in practice?

We improve an individual's skill the same way any coach would in any sport. I would first analyze what they need or the area that they need improvement in, and then come up with a game plan or practice plan that works on that weakness in a way that can show progress. A large part of esports is all in mechanics, so the more experience a player gets and the more focus an athlete puts into just understanding how to properly play the game of course puts them ahead. Game sense is something that comes with time, so the more they compete, the better they understand how to approach a match. Many different games have third-party programs or exercises in the game itself that were built for improvement that we have our athletes put time into weekly, just like how you would have a football player lift weights outside of practice to become a stronger athlete. We “lift weights” in-game to become stronger competitors. One aspect of esports that is also fundamental to success is communication, and much more so than any other traditional sport. There is so much information that each athlete on the virtual fields needs to convey to their teammates at any given point, so when we approach practices, we normally set a small number of goals for our players to achieve each week, to make progress more manageable and not to overwhelm our athletes. Overall, esports does not have the same benefits as traditional sports has with having expansive and developed middle school/high school teams, so overall, as long as an athletes put in focused and intentional time when practicing, they will see improvement.

 

6. Can you discuss a successful coaching moment where you impacted your team into winning the match?

I wouldn’t say I could pull out one specific moment where I called a timeout and told my players a specific thing that if we did it we would win, or a time where I taught my players a specific thing or we worked on one specific play that we pulled out in a high-pressure situation to take us to victory. I think overall the successful coaching moments I reflect on is the growth I see in my athletes. Competitive esports, much less collegiate esports, is a space that is significantly young and new. Football has been around for decades, soccer has been around for decades, and there are countless other sports that are staples in life. Esports hasn’t even been around for 10 years at the college level. With that being said, most video game players have no idea what the difference between casual and competitive looks like. The approach that a competitive esport takes is vastly different and unknown to logging on to your favorite game after a day of work or school and getting a few rounds in. Game knowledge, game experience, game sense, the intricacies of what’s good, what’s bad, what you can exploit; all of these things are so unique to competitive.

 

7. How do you strategize before you face an opponent or scout them?

There are several different ways that we can scout and prepare for an upcoming match. Since our world is primarily virtual, there’s lots of places that we can look to get context on our opponents, their players, some of their game schemes, and whatever else we might want to look into. Different games require different preparation and study, but overall, we’re in a fortunate position where our teams are very strong, and as long as we focus on ourselves and our own game plan, we’re skilled enough to make the proper adjustments we need to mid-game as we see our opponent’s strategy unfold in front of us. I’d say that we don’t often do very much scouting on our opponents, since the more time we invest in making our own gameplans stronger would be more effective than trying to counter one specific opponent’s gameplan, since unlike other traditional sports who might only compete 10 times a season, we compete 10 times every week across all of our teams, so we don’t always have the best opportunities to invest time into scouting.

 

 

8. What do you use to measure the performance of your team over the year?

Like most competitive teams, win/loss record is one of the easiest baselines to measure performance. If we compare last season to this season, do we have a higher win percentage? Are we winning more games? Additionally, we have more flexibility on the kinds of competitions that we compete in, so gauging the level of competition we have is another indicator. In every game we compete in, there is always an in-game ranking system that can measure an individual’s skill level, and all of our players actively play in those competitive modes. Measuring the growth of our players and if they’ve progressed or “ranked-up”, as well as what kind of skill level do our opponents have that we’re playing again? Are we winning games against weak teams? Are we playing it close against the best teams in the nation? Are we improving upon the objectives we set in practice, even if those don’t immediately translate to more success? There’s a great variety of options, and we’ve been fortunate to only see forwards momentum and improve performances season after season.

 

 

Coach Henry and the Esports team are in the midst of their season right now and would love the continued support from the Pride community. They are pretty much a year-round sport and do not get many breaks throughout the year for competition. We thank Coach Johnston for taking the time to meet when his schedule is as busy as it is. Between recruiting, travelling, and creating practice plans he does not have a whole lot of free time. His passion for the sport is bigger than most as the hours he puts in is top tier. It’s incredible to see the amount of effort he puts forth. Outside viewers can tell because of the growth the program has seen in the last couple years. It was a smaller program but now there is more success and a place to practice on campus for the players. We hope to see the continued winning from Johnston and the Pride Esports team.


Tye Ojala

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