“If you are having fun and enjoying the competitive environment, then you are already a winner” – Interview with St Vincent Sharks Head Coach, Martin Birch-Foster

“If you are having fun and enjoying the competitive environment, then you are already a winner” – Interview with St Vincent Sharks Head Coach, Martin Birch-Foster

6 min read | 24 Mar 2021

British Esports Championships team St Vincent Sharks have made their mark in Division 1 of Rocket League, and continue to promote inclusivity within esports. Bryony-Hope Green spoke to head coach Martin Birch-Foster to learn more about the team, and how they got their SEN (Special Educational Needs) students involved in the Championships.

When was the team formed?
Officially, the team was formed in November 2019 when students had begun playing Halo 3 in a gaming lunch cub using Xbox 360’s that had been donated by our local community. The students hooked them up to create a LAN party and would then compete in duos. Two of my students called themselves “The St Vincent Sharks” and during the club they  introduced me to esports and streaming.

In February 2020 our St Vincent Shark Rocket League team was formed and we went on to play in the British Esports Association, after our Principal Andy Grant agreed to fund the enrichment programme that enabled us to buy three Gaming laptops.

How many people are involved within your team?
The team consists of at least 12 students – 6 from the School of Personalised Learning which is our SEN provision and 6 from our Sixth Form Provision.

The students from our School of Personalised Learning (SPL) have played mostly scrims this season, due to COVID-19 preventing students from mixing in college and the timetable not working in their favour this year. This is something we are looking to amend next season.

However the Sixth Form team still consists of players with SEN, and I actively encourage students with SEN to play to give them the chances that traditional sports may not always be able to.

What impact has being able to compete had on the team?
Our SPL team has enjoyed every moment of our scrims and are always looking to play. The team has lost a lot of matches, but the idea of winning isn’t the only reason they play.

For the majority, they want to compete against a college or school and not just those in their own college or town.

Last season we played a team from further north and the students loved it, in fact our first match was streamed on Twitch, then downstairs in the theatre it was displayed on the big screen for all of our college to watch.

At that point we had approximately 30 students and staff watching and cheering, plus the students that tuned in on their phones. I remember the Principal asking whether the shouting and cheering was from the students watching the Sharks play, we didn’t realise the theatre backed onto his office.

The way it has impacted our learners is that a lot of the students enjoy gaming as a hobby and it is a shared passion of theirs. They have not had a team they could cheer and support before, a lot don’t follow traditional sports such as football so for them to have a team that is theirs is extremely rewarding and brings the entire college together, whether you are a student from the SPL or sixth form provision.

What you may also notice is that both teams use the same logo for their matches, this is because when they represent the college it doesn’t matter which provision you are taught in, when you enter the playing field on Rocket League, you are a Shark.

How would you like to see esports develop in the future?
I really want to see esports in our college develop so that both the sixth form and SPL teams can mix. In a post COVID-19 world that is the dream, to unite both teams, to have them play alongside each other would be superb.

Whenever either team is playing, the other one (sixth form or SPL) will give their support unconditionally. Esports is still growing within education, as a provider we need to embrace and not fear this growing industry.

At a school level, from a local perspective it is still in its infancy, but the Sharks are making ripples and sending out the message that esports is not going anywhere.

My hope is that more local schools will get involved in the future or visit the team when safe to do so and find out more on the topic.

The best way for esports to develop though is for anyone interested to build up the courage to get involved, it doesn’t matter about your skill in the game, if you are having fun and enjoying the competitive environment, then you are already a winner.

Follow the St Vincent Sharks’ journey in the British Esports Championships on Twitter, and keep an eye out for them on the leaderboards

By Bryony-Hope Green



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