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East Helena High School esports team brings home state titles


HELENA — Video games have come a long way since the early days of Pong. Today there are cash prizes, sponsorships and full careers associated with video games, and opportunities for students to represent their schools in competitions.

East Helena High School’s esports team just brought home two state titles.

Head esports coach, Marne Bender, began coaching East Helena’s esports team in 2019. At first, she wasn’t so sure about esports, but now she says not to knock it until you try it.

“I grew up not being a gamer, but I have a brother who works in the gaming industry and is, just loves it. And he kind of helped me to see that we need to meet kids where they’re at. You know, if they’re really interested in something, let’s learn more about it,” says Bender.

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Tom Buchanan

Started in 2019, East Helena’s esports team has JV and Varsity groups, as well as students participating in streaming, social media, and art elements of gaming.

Their inclusive approach to the sport earned them two championships just last weekend alone at the Montana Championship Series at the University of Montana. They took home state titles for games such as Overwatch 2 and Rocket League. They also took home two state titles during last year’s season.

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Tom Buchanan

Tanner Gilmore is a freshman at East Helena and helped bring home the win for Overwatch 2.

“It was great. There’s a video of it. And I showed my dad, and the way he described it, he said it was like when mission control landed the first rocket on the moon. It was, it was awesome,” says Gilmore.

But this team is as much about teamwork, encouragement, and camaraderie as it is about gaming.

“I just love, like, playing with a team and making friends through it. It’s a lot of fun,” says Gilmore.

“Seeing these kids that they had played all year long and then getting to meet them face to face. Some of them had even like kind of forged relationships, chatting online. And now, they finally got to actually meet these people, and for a lot of them it was like they just slid into old friendships. It was just kind of seamless,” says Bender.

And there is a potential for esports to become MHSA-sanctioned, putting it on the same level as more physical sports.

The opportunities for the future are seemingly limitless, from playing at the collegiate level to careers in STEM fields, arts, and media.

“I would definitely mention how good of a community it is and how nice everyone is and that it’s just a lot of fun to play video games for a sport,” says Gilmore.

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