Daniel Rios
ASU Student Journalist

Dreams achieved in 2024 AIA Esports championships

April 27, 2024 by Daniel Rios, Arizona State University

The three sets of champion and runner-up trophies in the hallway of Paradise Valley Community College's Center for Performance Arts that were awarded Saturday. (Daniel Rios/AZPreps365)

Esports champions were in paradise Saturday.

Twelve high school teams competed in the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s Esports championships at Paradise Valley Community College, and by the end of the day three of those teams became champions.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

The day started with two semifinals and, surprisingly, two sweeps.

The Carl Hayden Falcons (11-4) were the underdogs in their semifinal against the Hamilton Huskies (13-1) but swept them, 3-0. In the second matchup of the day, the Apollo Hawks (12-2) battled the Corona Del Sol Aztecs (15-1) for a chance to meet the Falcons in the finals.

Ultimately, the Aztecs bested the Hawks 3-0 as well. The final matchup featured some of the most intense matches the crowd saw all day.

The first set was tied 2-2, with one game remaining to determine the first set series winner. The Aztecs Henry “Z0az216” Yazzie showed just how much damage he could do with each stock.

With each one he had, it seemed like he did the most damage possible all day, even when he took heavy damage above 100%.

When he got down to his last stock in the final game, when his opponent already had 129% damage taken, Yazzie showed how he maximized the value of every stock he had. Yazzie eventually won the series and set the tone for his squad.

“To give the team the momentum after winning the first set in the final was very relieving,” Yazzie said. “The set was very close. It came down to (the fifth game) at the end, and I'm just glad that I was able to pull it through and give Andrew the momentum that was needed to help win this championship.”

In the final game, Aztecs senior Andrew “Luigimain” De Le Ree destroyed his opponent sitting right across from him, 3-0. That series led to the Aztecs winning the match 2-1 and the state championship.

               Corona Del Sol High School celebrates its state championship in Super Smash Bros. at Paradise Valley Community College. (Daniel Rios/AZPreps365)

De Le Ree was dominant all day, as he produced very wicked combos that trapped his opponents into taking very heavy damage. The combos and his overall elusiveness in the game allowed him to lose only two stocks in the final two games of his series, as he showed no sign of weaknesses all day.

“I just kind of like to get my headphones on and play my game,” De Le Ree said. “I read my opponents to see what they’re doing at first and see if a grab is possible.”

The win meant the world to the team, because it reminded them of all the hard work they put in to the game this whole year. It was very relieving for De Le Ree to hear his entire team scream with excitement as he took his opponent's last stock to clinch it.

“It’s just really cool to think about, and it's sweet that this is my senior year,” De Le Ree said. “My final act as a senior is winning the state championships and holding the banner and holding the trophy and getting the medal. It’s just so cool.”

Rocket League

In the afternoon, the Rocket League teams took the stage after all the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate action. Like the Smash Bros semifinals, the Rocket League semifinals had to pull out the brooms, as there were two sweeps.

The Nogales Apaches (16-0) opened up the first game against the Campo Verde Cowboys (14-1) and swept them with ease to clinch a spot in the championship. Soon after, in a similar fashion, were the Valley Christian Trojans (14-2), who defeated the Pueblo Warriors (11-3) 3-0, securing a battle with the Apaches in the finals.

The finals were a best-of-seven series, and the Trojans came out swinging, taking an early 2-0 lead. With the Apaches on their heels, they knew it was time for a change in their game plan.

“We tried to experiment something in game two, which didn’t work,” Apaches senior Marcel “SSavv” Savinon said. “So we tried a different approach to the game. We played slower in a way where we saved more boosts because we ended up with no boosts most of the time.”

The third map, the closest of the entire series, went to overtime, as both teams were tied at three apiece. But the Apaches knew what to do to get their first map of the series.

“To just lock in honestly,” Savinon said. “It was just to fully lock in, straight up. I was thinking about some things, but after kickoff, it was like go. I said, ‘Go and just lock in and focus on everything.’ I made sure to look at all the players and just did what I did.”

The team did in fact lock in as it scored two minutes into the overtime period and won 4-3.

They took their first map of the series but still trailed 2-1. The momentum gained after that overtime win carried over, as the Apaches won the next three maps to take a 3-2 lead in the series and were a map away from repeating as champions.

Apaches head coach Ricardo Medina had one message for his players to make sure they didn’t get antsy.

“Play at their speed,” Medina said. “Their teamwork with how they play together, with their communication, the comms. Play their game, play at their speed.”

The team listened to what their coach said and engineered another dominant map thanks in part to Apaches junior Christian “Trixyrl'' Fuentes, who took over for his team.

He scored three goals and had a clutch block in the last minutes of the map that prevented the Trojans from tying it up late, allowing the Apaches to win the map 4-1 and the series 4-2.

                                                                  Nogales High School celebrates its state championshp in Rocket League at Paradise Valley Community College(Daniel Rios/AZPrep365).

“It means a lot,” Fuentes said. “It’s cool to be back-to-back winners. Our first year winning, we were excited. Then this year we came in all confident, and then obviously the first two matches was a downfall for us.”

It marked the third straight Rocket League championship the Apaches have made, as they won in 2023 but lost in 2022. They’ll be losing their star player, Savinon, a senior, but Medina is proud of what the team accomplished in this run.

“I’m ecstatic,” Medina said. “Back-to-back. It’s one of those things as a coach you want to do your best. When you have a team like this, it's like excellence is the standard. We're losing (Savinon) this year, which is unfortunate because he’s a hell of a player. But again the legacy that these guys have set is going last for a while, and I think all of the Arizona Rocket League community is aware of just how special this group is.”

League of Legends

In the semifinals of League of Legends, the Sandra Day O’Connor Eagles (12-1) defeated the Arizona College Prep Knights (12-1) 2-1, and the Brophy Prep Broncos (13-0) swept the Desert Ridge Jaguars (13-1) 2-0.

Just like the four teams before them that competed for a championship, the Broncos and Eagles made sure to give the crowd a show, as their best-of-three matchup went the distance.

But if didn’t feel that way at first after a blowout victory by the Broncos to take a 1-0 lead in the series. The Eagles, however, made sure to keep their championship dreams alive in the next map.

“He (Eagles’ coach Tom DeVito) told us it’s over, there’s nothing we can do about that loss,” Eagles senior Daniel “Hambonemalone” Rinaldo said. “It’s a loss. We’re never going to change it. But let’s go make the next one a win.”

His team did just that and after some adjustments were able to take that second map.

It all came down to the final map, which was a complete opposite of the first map. This time, the Eagles blew out the Broncos with ease to won the series 2-1 and secure the state championship. I

It wasn’t close as the Jaguars had 33 eliminations to the Broncos six.

Sandra Day O'Connor 's Leauge of Legends team celebrates its state championship at Paradise Valley Community College. (Daniel Rios/AZPreps365)

“That was not easy,” DeVito said. “Even when we were up by like nine or 10 eliminations I felt like, ‘OK we’re on a nice edge right now. We need to make a big play.’ Then they jumped into a dragon fight and we wiped them. This game is set now, and now we need to just dot our I’s and cross our T’s and we’re good to go.”

The Eagles closed the series with a big play, an ace in the final team fight, which put the cherry on top of the comeback.

“It was kind of shocking,” Rinaldo said. “I didn’t expect to be here this long. It’s pretty late. I’m tired. I have work tomorrow. But you know, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s pretty cool to be a state champ. Not everyone can say that.”

The Eagles can’t wait to go back to school Monday to show off what they won.

“I can’t wait to go back to my class and show everyone this shiny medal,” Eagles sophomore Taewon “Callmetissue” Kim said. “I’m just so proud of my team. Just overwhelmingly proud of my team, Clyde, Daniel, Nico, Angelo and Jonah. Every single one of them. I just want to hug them.”