Largest high school Super Smash Bros. tournament in U.S. smashes down in South Holland

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Unity Christian Academy and Calvin Christian School collaborate with IHSEA to bring hundreds of students to South Holland for esports Smash Bros. tournament

By Josh Bootsma

SOUTH HOLLAND, Ill. (December 14, 2022) – The gym at Calvin Christian School was tense with friendly competition on Saturday, December 10, as hundreds of high schoolers punched, slashed, and blasted each other into electronic oblivion. The Super Smash Bros. tournament was organized by Unity Christian Academy and the Illinois High School Esports Association, and was the largest-ever high school “Smash” tournament to occur in the United States.

62 high schools from across the state of Illinois gathered for the tournament, which lasted roughly 12 hours, and served as a semi-final tournament ahead of the finals this weekend in Springfield.

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62 high schools from across Illinois gathered in the gym at Calvin Christian School in South Holland for the largest high school Super Smash Bros. tournament in the U.S. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Historically large Smash Bros. tournament

During the event, over 250 students competed on approximately 80 monitors situated on tables set up in the gym and elsewhere at Calvin Christian School. Competitors grabbed their controllers to play Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, a fighting game on the Nintendo Switch platform in which players battle using various Nintendo characters and attempt to knock each other out of an arena.

Each wave of competitors played seven rounds of Super Smash Bros., a Nintendo Switch fighting game. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

The tournament was structured in two waves, with seven rounds per wave. Opponent pairings for each round were determined by a student’s ongoing record. A student in Wave A, for example, that had lost three matches and won three matches would be paired with an opponent in round seven that shared the same win-loss record of 3-3.

After both waves were completed, a “Top-Cut” round took the top 32 players from Wave A and the top 32 players from Wave B and pitted them against each other.

“We call this the semi-final, … and how to you place here today determines your seeding for the finals,” said Andy Mendez, Executive Director of IHSEA.

The final match of Saturday’s tournament was included in a Twitch stream, which can be found here.

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Unity Christian’s Samuel Williams (left) battles with an opponent during the first wave of play on Saturday, December 10. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Community cooperation

Mendez praised the efforts of Unity Christian Academy, Calvin Christian School, and the local community for making the tournament happen, the largest Super Smash Bros. competition for high schoolers in the country.

“Unity Christian Academy has been an incredible host,” Mendez said. “There’s never been a community that has reached out and gone the extra mile like this community has. Truly, there’s never been a community that has supported esports to this level and this caliber. Not only does the IHSEA feel confident in coming here again, but we feel confident reaching out to the Village of South Holland or Lansing, knowing that we can rely on this community.”

John Purnell is Unity Christian’s esports coach and was instrumental in preparing to host the state semifinal Smash Bros. tournament in South Holland.

“When they asked, we were really excited because this was something we really wanted to do, not just for UCA, but for the South Holland and Lansing communities,” Purnell said. “And afterwards, … we started to think, ‘Oh, what about concessions? What about the room for the administrative team to take results? Oh wait, where are the mini-buses going to park?'”

“It was exciting, but I’ll be honest, I was nervous,” Purnell said. “I didn’t want to mess up.”

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From left, IHSEA Chief Competition Officer Dalton McGhiey, IHSEA Executive Director Andy Mendez, and Unity Christian Academy esports coach John Purnell. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

One of the many preparations for the tournament was determining the hardware that would be needed. Schools were asked to bring their own monitors, but more were needed, and Purnell said he reached out to local connections to help fill in the gaps.

“Ozinga Construction loaned us 20 monitors, Prairie State College loaned us 12 monitors, and families in the community as well,” Purnell said, who worked with Calvin Christian staff to determine the best way to handle the electrical load using outlets and cords throughout the gym.

Esports in Illinois

“IHSEA is the best in the nation. I say this everywhere I go,” Purnell said. “When you win here it means something. … And it gives these kids opportunities with colleges.”

Purnell said many colleges now offer esports scholarships, and are searching for the best players to compete at their school. Many schools have already acknowledged IHSEA players as top-tier competitors, he explained.

A coach from East Alton-Wood River High School, located near St. Louis, livestreams a student’s round during the Illinois Super Smash Bros. semifinal. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Mendez said players in the IHSEA have secured at least 150 scholarships to colleges throughout the country: “That’s schools reaching out nationally to recruit players within the IHSEA,” he said.

Brian Huang, coach of the esports team from Frederick Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center on Chicago’s far north side, said esports offers a unique opportunity to kids who might not otherwise participate in extracurricular programs.

“Video games has always been an outlet where kids go into these dark caves, they play in dark rooms by themselves, but [esports] allows kids to hang out with other kids,” he said. “In my school, some of the quietest students you’d never hear a peep from are joking around and cheering on other students. That’s incredible powerful.”

More information about the Illinois High School Esports Association is available at ihsea.org. Those interested in watching a live stream of the final Smash Bros. tournament in Springfield this weekend can follow the IHSEA on Twitch.

More information about Unity Christian Academy, located at 16341 South Park Avenue in South Holland, is available at weareuca.org. Calvin Christian School is located at 528 East 161st Place in South Holland.

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