The reigning champions return: Perham esports team heads to state tournament

PHS's "Valorant" team, consisting of Marcus Cupkie, Levi Baumgart, Jaxon Pickrain, Aiden Burke and Jacoby Pokrzwinski, is headed back to the state tournament after winning last year's championship.

The Perham esports "Valorant" team. Back, from left: Jaxon Pickrain, Levi Baumgart and Marcus Cupkie. Front, from left: Jacoby Pokrzwinski and Aiden Burke.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus
(From left) Jaxon Pickrain, Levi Baumgart, Marcus Cupkie, Jacoby Pokrzywinski and Aiden Burke pose together after winning 2022's state championship.
Perham Focus file photo

PERHAM — The Perham esports "Valorant" team is once again undefeated and returning to 2023's state tournament for more expected wins this weekend . The five-member team of Perham students — Marcus Cupkie, Levi Baumgart, Jaxon Pickrain, Aiden Burke and Jacoby Pokrzwinski — enjoyed their win so much last year, they decided they wanted to join forces once again for the 2022-23 esports season.

Being back together for a second year has been just as fun as the first. Not only have they received a lot of praise and recognition, they also know it will help them get better jobs in the future. While the rings and trophy they earn as state champions are a nice deal, so is the ability to add it to future resumes and applications.

"I've known them a little more than a year now," said Justin Sonnenberg, the team's general manager. "This 'Valorant' team is rather mature and able to take on responsibilities." Not only does Sonnenberg see them working together, but he also sees the way it teaches them leadership and independence.

Esports — which is offered at Perham schools in collaboration with Fenworks (the esports/coaching provider) and Empowering Kids — truly teaches students how to work together in a modern age. The "Valorant" team often practices and competes with one another remotely. They're able to sit at their computer at home or in a lab and log in to their game of choice. While the esports program also offers games such as "Fortnite" or chess, the fearsome five chose to play the same game they did last year: "Valorant" (which shares their team name).

Pickrain described the game as a five-versus-five tactical shooter. Teams have to work together to defeat one another, meaning they have to strategize and practice to perfect their attack and defense techniques. In an age where a lot of professional work is done remotely, the players get to practice real-life skills while having fun. While the possibility to earn scholarships is a nice part of having esports offered at the school district, doing so through gaming is a always nice little perk.


"I think it's great because I have an excuse to play video games sometimes," Pickrain joked.

Before the five went to the state tournament last year, they were very confident of their ability to win. This year, they're headed back to the Fenworks State Tournament with that same level of confidence.

"I feel like we knew (we'd qualify for state again)," said team member Baumgart. "At first we were like, 'I don't know if we're going to (win) it again,' because there was new teams and there is, like, three undefeated teams we haven't fought yet."

Despite these unknowns, they still plan to win.

The team members mentioned they need to practice more before they head out to Grand Forks, North Dakota, for the Fenworks 2022-23 Esports State Tournament (which hosts North Dakota and Minnesota schools due to the league's size) on Friday, March 31, but they remain confident. The winners will be known when the tournament concludes on Saturday, April 1. Sonnenberg knows just how good the team is, and they know themselves. After two undefeated seasons, that confidence is definitely earned.

Of the upcoming state tournament, Cupkie had this to say: "Oh, we're going to win."

Elizabeth (she/her), 24, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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