Including information on the OKC PAL Spring 2021 Fundraiser below!
Building Community and Opportunity Through Esports
When people typically think of school sports, they will think of traditional sports like football, basketball, or soccer. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. in early 2020, traditional school sports were shut down and many had no idea what to do. But not Sergeant Joe Peña. He saw this as an opportunity in the form of esports.
Sergeant Joe Peña has been an officer for 21 years and has been a part of the Police Athletic League for 4 years. He used to coach football and baseball; now he coaches Rocket League.
The Police Athletic League is a program for students to participate in a variety of sports, but until last year it didn’t include esports. When the pandemic hit last, PAL had to stop doing in-person sporting events. That’s when SGT Peña decided it was time to come up with another way for students to get together.
Esports had been on SGT. Peña’s mind for some time. His son, who played both baseball and competitive games like Counter Strike: Global Offensive, helped inspired him to see what esports was: an opportunity for community.
In early 2020, SGT. Peña held a small Rocket League tournament. A few students joined, but one seemed to dominate the rest. That person was MyNameIsJeff.
SGT. Peña said he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He was convinced that this kid had to be a hacker, or had someone else play for him.
Of course this was not true; MyNameIsJeff was a real person. He then challenged SGT. Peña to a game as that was the deal of the tourney. As MyNameIsJeff swept the floor with the sergeant, Peña learned first hand that this kid was the real deal.
During the summer of 2020, SGT. Peña, his son, MyNameIsJeff, and later on Oculus, created a Discord server for kids to join. His friend Robert Howard helped give direction for the program too. The PAL Esports Discord opened up for 5th- 8th grade students.
The crazy thing is, SGT. Peña taught himself what he needed to know about esports. He learned how to create and run a Discord server, how to setup Twitch streams, organize tournaments, and even how to play Rocket League.
The Start of a League
Around this time, News 9 performed an interview with SGT. Peña and MyNameIsJeff. Mike Agular, the director of OU Esports, saw this article and in less than a week later, Mike was sitting down with Sergeant Jose Peña for lunch at the Garage off I-240.
Mike knew this was something special, a way to get kids involved in esports in part of a safe and friendly community. Mike immediately jumped on board and provided support through production and esports mentoring.
When asking Mike about what made PAL esports program so special, he commented, “We are using partnership with PALS to restructure police and to mentor youth.”
It is not only a great way to build a community, but to show what the police force should be: a team that connects with community and become mentors those in need.
A New Challenger Appears
Also at this time, my mom got wind of the program through social media. My sibling, Drew, was one of the first to join the OKCPAL esports program.
When Drew first joined the Oklahoma City Police Athletic League esports program in the summer before the 2020-2021 semester, the Discord server was small. Now, there are 40 members and that number is still growing.
Drew is now a mentor and streamer for the esports program; they help setup streams for the program. Through PAL they have seen opportunities that they otherwise wouldn’t have seen!
Drew says that PAL esports is not just about gaming. It’s a way to connect and learn about career opportunities.
SGT. Peña connected Drew with Mike at OU to discuss the opportunities that lie before them. For instance, Drew could go into professional Rocket League, or even be a shoutcaster in the esports & gaming world.
The sergeant also invited me to join the PAL Esports Discord server to really get a feel for what we discussed. Every Tuesday and Thursday, they hold practices for Rocket League. I joined them one Thursday night.
What I witnessed was not only a great way for the students to practice, but to connect as well. I was laughing up a storm and having a great time as we played, taking time for both serious and relaxed games. This upcoming community started by Peña is truly something special. I’ve never regretted anytime spent with them.
A New Way to Fundraise
Another major player in this program is Brittany Ward, the athletic director at PAL. When SGT. Peña first brought up the idea of an esports program, she was hesitant. Now she is all on board, doing scheduling and helping with production of the streams. Ward was also the one who came up with the idea of their next fundraiser.
Brittany has been planning and organizing a fundraiser for OKCPAL with the partnership of Oklahoma esports team EQUINOX. The PAL program is a nonprofit organization and uses fundraising to get most of its funds.
Usually, OKCPAL would host a Fight Night fundraiser but due to the pandemic, it was no longer possible. This fundraiser will be a Rocket League tournament for anyone ages 16 and up.
The kids of the OKCPAL esports program will be working alongside Equinox as well as OU Esports to put on the production of the tournament stream. Not only that, the students will also get to use Equinox’s new facility to put on the production!
The group also plans to host a series of panels. The first panel will be hosted by Ward and will be about what esports is, and the opportunities that arise from it. The discussion will include SGT. Peña, Edmond Memorial Head Coach Kate Swearingen, Mike Aguilar, and Vice President of Equinox Sports Operations Dr. David Hanan.
The second panel will be hosted by Mike Aguilar, in which he will talk with esports leaders in Oklahoma who have been growing the community. These leaders will include CEO of GetRECt Gaming Club Jack Counts, Owner and Operator of Game Over Entertainment Rashard Hutchinson, Ricky McNeal of HXC Gaming Events, and Independent Esports Event Consultant Pooyan Nikjou.
The Tournament itself will be a Rocket League 3v3 format with $600 and a snazzy pair of HyperX headphones (their Alpha Cloud headsets to be specific) for each of the winners on the line.
OKC PAL Spring 2021 Fundraiser
To register, each player will need to give a $10 donation and sign up on the Battlefly with your team members.
After you are verified, make sure to accept the invite you get for the fundraiser’s Discord channel: https://give.cornerstone.cc/okcpal (Make sure you leave your Discord user name in the description of the donation)
This is Not the End
The PAL esports program has come a very long way in just a few months. It has opened up many opportunities for students in the forms of community and future careers.
SRT. Peña, Brittney, Mike, MyNameIsJeff, Drew, and others are all extremely passionate about PAL esports and helped make it what it is today. I am so excited to see where OKCPAL esports will end up. I know its future will be excellent due to the people who have helped work on this program.
For more info, visit: https://linktr.ee/okcpal