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NHS Esports team wins State title

Via Nogales International



A year ago, the esports team from Nogales High School made it to the state Rocket League finals before losing to Brophy Prep.

The loss, the team’s first of the 2022 season, was tough to swallow for players Gustavo Duran, Christian Fuentes and Marcel Savinon – all underclassmen who returned in 2023 with a chip on their shoulders.

“The team was upset about their loss to Brophy last year. They were determined to get back to state and prove they were the best in Arizona,” Coach Ricardo Medina said in an email.

That’s precisely what the NHS team, known as the Epaches, did last weekend at Paradise Valley Community College. Competing once against Brophy in a best-of-seven state title match, they swept to a 4-0 victory to clinch the Rocket League title.

Duran and Fuentes, now sophomores, and Savinon, a junior, were able to bring home the state championship trophy, along with Medina and freshman manager Elijah Samuel Leon.

“I do wish more people understood the game so they could appreciate the mechanical skill and teamwork the players demonstrated,” Medina said.

The Arizona Interscholastic Association added esports to its competitive slate in 2019, and now offers organized play in three games: League of Legends, Rocket League and Super Smash Bros Ultimate. Rocket League is a video game described by maker Psyonix as “a high-powered hybrid of arcade-style soccer and vehicular mayhem.”

From left: Christian Fuentes, Marcel Savinon and Gustavo Duran.

The Epaches compete at the state championship tounament at Paradise Valley Community College. From left: Christian Fuentes, Marcel Savinon and Gustavo Duran.

The regular Esports season has schools organized into four groups, with around 12 teams in each group, Medina explained. The top four teams from each group qualify for the postseason.

Regular season games involve a series of matches, with the game decided by a best-of-five format. NHS went undefeated in 11 games during the 2023 regular season, losing only a single match during those 11 games.

Despite that dominant performance, the Epaches were the No. 2 seed in the state tournament – “which the team took personally,” Medina said.

They ended up sweeping the first four rounds of the playoffs by 3-0 margins. A win over Valley Christian in the semifinals put them in the best-of-seven final with Brophy, which resulted in the Epaches hoisting the championship trophy.

As for his role, Medina said: “They play the game at such a high level, coaching is more about facilitating discussion about strategy and approach. They are incredibly talented players and I am lucky to have witnessed an incredibly dominant season of Rocket League.”

He also gave shout-outs to NHS Athletic Director Eric Sowle and computer science teacher Christopher Dyvanand, “who have been our biggest supporters throughout the season.”

The Nogales-Brophy esports Rocket League championship contest can be viewed online here, starting at around 4:57.