College Football Reporter/Columnist

Bob Asmussen is a college football reporter and columnist for The News-Gazette. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@BobAsmussen).

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CHAMPAIGN — When Champaign’s Sam Good started playing the video game “Rocket League” at age 12, his parents, Dana and Keith, weren’t worried about it.

“We didn’t necessarily set limits,” Dana said. “He was in other activities, too.”

It was just for fun. Like any other video game.

“I just really liked playing ‘Rocket League,’” Sam said. “I started getting really good.”

Before long, Sam learned about the competitive scene for “Rocket League.”

Sam’s grades were strong, and hours of gaming didn’t impact his academics. In fact, “Rocket League” has been all positive for Sam.

In the fall, the current Centennial senior will attend Illinois State University on a full-tuition scholarship from the school’s esports department.

Who knew that was a thing? Well, eventually, Dana and Keith.

After Sam’s eighth-grade year, the Goods attended the Rocket League World Championships in New Jersey. At the event, the Goods heard from a competitor who was playing “Rocket League” in college and had earned a half-scholarship.

“I was like, ‘What?’” Dana said.

Sam has become an elite player. He ranks among the Top 20 in the country, a blue-chipper.

The premier competition is the Rocket League Championship Series, which is open to anyone age 15 and older.

He is on the verge of competing at the professional level. Unlike other sports, competing as a pro is permitted while still playing for a college team.

There are big payoffs for the pros. Last August, the Goods went to the World Championships in Fort Worth, Texas. Thousands attended at Dickies Arena. The prize pool was more than $2 million.

“It’s really pretty cool,” Dana said. “Players are up front, and it’s on the big screen. People are really into it.”

There were teams from Europe, South America and North America.

What’s next

Sam plans to study computer science at Illinois State, where he will compete for “Rocket League” head coach Zach Dell.

Sam wrote his college entrance essay about the thrill of making it into a chamionship series event.

“At last, my team had risen above millions of players and reached the final stage of the qualifying tournament,” he wrote. “The pressure was on, and I had to prove that all of the time I had put in was not meaningless, or ‘wasted playing a silly game.’ With my friends, family, and the ‘Rocket League’ community as a whole having their eyes on me, I rose to the occasion and I was on a top 16 team in North America.”

Developed by Psyonix, “Rocket League” is a combination soccer and auto-racing video game. Players use rocket-powered cars to hit a ball into a goal.

“Rocket League” isn’t the only esports competition. “League of Legends,” “Overwatch,” “Fortnite,” “Call of Duty” and “Super Smash Bros.” are among the others.

Tools of the trade

Having a good computer makes game play more enjoyable.

Sam works on three-player teams. Because it is virtual, there is no need for the players to be physically together.

“I communicate with them online,” Sam said.

His most recent team included players from northern California and Canada.

The social aspect of “Rocket League” is appealing to the Goods.

“One of the things that alleviated my concerns was Sam was learning a lot of the other valuable skills,” Keith said. “All this is done online with other kids. He had to be his own manager. He had to organize his own practice schedule. He had to organize with other kids to create teams and practice with other teams.

“When he is doing esports, he is his own athletic director and coach. He was really learning a lot of valuable time-management skills and interpersonal skills with other people.”

Hand-eye coordination helps. Sam played piano early in life and might be reaping some of the rewards from that training with his gaming.

Sam was also a strong soccer player in his younger years. He stopped playing after his freshman year in high school to focus on “Rocket League.” And COVID-19 hit, too.

Family matters

Sam, 17, is the middle of five children, with older sisters Becca (23) and Abby (20) and younger sisters Lizzy (14) and Hannah (8). Abby attends Illinois Wesleyan University, Lizzy is a freshman at Centennial and Hannah is home-schooled.

Sam is the only one of the Goods who plays “Rocket League.”

When Sam enters tournaments, some of the games are streamed, and the family tunes in.

“It’s just like watching a sport,” Dana said. “I get into it and want him to win.”

The next big event for Sam is a championship series qualifier at the end of April.

“Everything is kind of building up to that,” Sam said. “That’s the big-deal tournament.”

Esports are growing at colleges across the country.

“We’re really fortunate that ISU is building their program,” Dana said. “They are specifically working on ‘Rocket League’ this year, and it happens to be the year Sam is going.”

Sam has spent most of his life in Champaign. His parents are from the area, too. Keith grew up in Homer and works at the University of Illinois’ farmdoc as a farm policy news editor. Dana, who is from Pesotum, is a family-medicine physician at Carle Foundation Hospital, working in the pre-op clinic.

What kind of reaction does Sam get about his esports career from relatives and friends? Depends.

“If they are 30 years old or younger, they seem to get it almost immediately,” Keith said. “They think ‘Oh, wow, is that awesome.’ I’m 53. When I tell my peers, it’s like they can’t understand it.”

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-393-8248 or