Members of two esports squads at Christian Brothers College High School huddled in a corner practicing their techniques for an upcoming game of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate against several other local high schools.
Meanwhile, team coordinator DJ Demongey paced the room with his laptop open as he messaged an opposing team that they were ready to go.
“Alright gentlemen, we have five minutes until JV starts playing,” Demongey called out to his players, the room abuzz with chatter as they finished up practicing their punches, kicks and blast lands in the arena-style fighting game that incorporates popular Nintendo mascots and other characters.
CBC debuted its esports program in 2019; it was among the first of a growing number of Catholic and other St. Louis area high schools to offer esports programs. Demongey was hired as CBC’s full-time esports coordinator in March 2021, leading the team to a state championship in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
CBC’s program has developed several standout players, including senior Zachary Puetz, who has been in the top four among Missouri high school players in the game Overwatch and earned a half-ride scholarship to Missouri Baptist University; and sophomore Henry Krey, a two-time state champion who is also ranked among the top 100 Super Smash Bros. Ultimate players in North America. He now participates in tournaments all over the United States and is supported by a sponsorship.
Henry began gaming in middle school and became serious about competing at the beginning of the pandemic, when he was in eighth grade. CBC’s esports program was part of what attracted him to the all-boys private Catholic high school.
“It’s becoming more and more mainstream,” Henry said. “It’s not that different from other sports we have, if you think about it. It’s just a different skill set,” testing players’ strategic thinking, problem solving, leadership and teamwork skills, for example.
In an analysis from Newzoo, the global esports audience is expected to pass the half-a-billion mark in 2022. Other area Catholic high schools that also have esports teams include Vianney High School, St. Louis University High School and Notre Dame High School.
Demongey is among a growing number of adults now in their 20s and 30s who grew up involved in competitive online gaming and are now leading a younger generation in the world of esports. Demongey studied English and communications at Maryville University, which has two esports teams and multiple national championships.
While the pandemic put a damper on in-person professional esports events, Demongey said it’s those opportunities that can lead to future careers for students — not only in gaming, but in other professions such as management, operations, sales, event planning, coaching and social media coordination. CBC has aligned its esports program with the school’s STEM Academy, allowing for exploration of jobs, careers and other related opportunities through its STEM curriculum.
“More of these physical and in-person jobs are being created for these individual teams,” he said. “So maybe you’re looking at marketing or PR or actual STEM classes and designers to get involved. Once Covid ends and we get back on track in traditional sports and the electronic world, you’re going to see a lot more of these positions become available.”