Middle school teacher lives ‘childhood dream’ as pro gamer

Arvada resident prepares for Super Smash Bros. tournament in Vegas

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Three and a half years ago, Arvada resident Josh Shoeman entered and won his first gaming tournament, also winning his first prize: a sandwich from Cheba Hut.

The tournament saw players go head-to-head in Super Smash Bros., a video game series in which opponents fight one another as characters from Nintendo games. Shoeman, who has played the games since the first title’s release in 1999, entered the Cheba Hut competition after a friend urged him to do so.

Years later, the 24-year-old math teacher from Rodger Quist Middle School in Thornton is known as the top Super Smash Bros. player in the state and has won thousands of dollars from tournaments.

“It’s like a childhood dream I’m going through,” he said.

In the past three months, Shoeman has placed third or higher in each of the dozens of competitions he’s entered. Now, the gamer seeks first place in his latest endeavor, GameWorks Showdown — a national tournament put on by GameWorks, a chain of entertainment centers. The chain recently incorporated competitive gaming, known as eSports, into its list of entertainment options, said CMO Mike Sadowski.

GameWorks Showdown represents the chain’s first national tournament and has already attracted hundreds of online viewers, who stream matches through livestreaming platform Twitch.

Sadowski said he expects to see even greater numbers tuning in for the regional and national rounds, with big names competing and the community larger than ever before.

According to Newzoo’s eSports Market Report, the eSports market generated more than $900 million in revenue and reached 165 million regular viewers in 2018. In 2016, those numbers amounted to $350 million and 121 million viewers.

“Players want to test their skills,” Sadowski said, “and while you can do that virtually, there’s something really special about sitting right next to the person you’re competing against.”

The road to nationals

GameWorks Showdown began May 12 with local competitions at venues across the country. Competitors have played the latest title in the series, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and earned points to secure a spot in one of seven regional competitions.

Shoeman will compete in regionals on June 9 at the Denver GameWorks, 7950 Northfield Blvd. The winners of each regional competition, as well as the winner of a last chance qualifying round, will compete in Las Vegas on June 28 for a share of the final cash pool, which amounts to approximately $10,000.

For Shoeman, who often plays as the character Zero Suit Samus, the trick to winning is figuring out what his opponents will do before they do it.

“While most people are focused on what they’re doing, I can read people’s habits,” he said.

He added that he often talks with competitors after each match and gives them advice. In the meantime, he also finds himself giving advice to the students in his math classes, who typically find out about his professional gaming status without him having to tell them.

“Kids always seem to want to search their teachers’ names online,” he said. “They’ll bring it up, and we’ll talk about what they’re doing and what characters they’ve been using.”

Occasionally, Shoeman will spend lunch hours playing matches against his students.

“Mostly, I try to make things look cool,” he said. “Anything that creates flashiness.”

What’s next

After the June competition, Shoeman hopes to travel abroad for tournaments in countries around the world, including in Canada and England. He plans to continue competing for at least four years, after which he may retire as a competitor and host tournaments instead.

As a number of eSports tournaments continue to launch this summer, Shoeman and Sadowski encouraged new gamers to get involved.

“We want casual gamers who are trying to learn to come in and see things for themselves,” Sadowski said.

“The community is really fun and welcoming, especially to new people,” Shoeman agreed.

And for his fellow Super Smash Bros. players, he had plenty of advice to give.

“Watch videos of better players, work on your movements,” he said, “and make as few mistakes as possible.”

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