When Amber Lawthers first decided to take a stab at esports and join Marshalltown Community College’s fledgling team at the beginning of the school year, it quickly became apparent she was a gifted Mario Kart player. Still, even after she had won a few matches against her peers, Coach Andrew Goforth admitted he was just waiting for the magic to wear off — Lawthers had to drop a few at some point, right?
As it turns out, she still hasn’t. Lawthers, a 2019 Marshalltown High School graduate who is in her second year at MCC and is the only female member of the team, is riding a perfect 28-0 record into the national competition and has the opportunity to become the school’s first ever national champion in its first year of competition.
“It kind of took me by surprise because, like she said, she’s a walk-on,” Goforth said. “We got to 4-0 (record), and I’m like OK, and I don’t mean to sound bad, but I was waiting for her to lose. And when I mean lose, I mean drop a race. I knew she was good when the people she was beating in our league were beating all of their opponents.”
At first, Lawthers wasn’t even sure if she’d be able to play because she had heard the main games were Overwatch and Rainbow Siege 6, but she then learned Mario Kart, the famous Nintendo racing game first launched on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) in the early 1990s and now primarily played on the Switch, was one of the offerings. After brief conversations with Goforth and fellow coach Nate Rodemeyer, she knew she was onboard.
Lawthers traces her Mario Kart origin story back to 2015 and the Wii, Nintendo’s predecessor to the Switch. It came with the game preinstalled, and she estimated she played it for at least 250 hours before moving over to the Switch. It wasn’t a difficult transition, luckily.
“In terms of Mario Kart 8, no, it’s literally the same game,” she said.
Her prodigious racing skills earned her both admiration and a bit of scorn: as Lawthers recalled, she forced a 12-year-old in a discord server to “quit rage” because she kept dominating. While Goforth and Rodemeyer do their best to offer guidance, they know that she already has a high level of knowledge about the game and let her cook.
“I have a lot of experience with Mario Kart, so there were conversations that Amber and I had early in the season that were like ‘Oh, have you done this? Have you done that?’ But a lot of those things she was already doing,” Rodemeyer said.
In Goforth’s words, she’s so good that the one-on-one competitive format is boring because Lawthers runs circles around her opponents — literally — often lapping them in a three-lap race.
Out of all 36 competitors in the national finals, Lawthers will be one of the top two seeds — the other plays for Iowa Western Community College — and she’s hopeful her drifting, item grabbing and shortcut finding skills will carry her to the top.
The fact that she’s getting a scholarship to play video games and facing off against the best of the best from around the country is still a bit of a shock to Lawthers — and her mom, Michelle — but her family and friends have been nothing but supportive along the journey. As Goforth and Rodemeyer noted, Mom attended a recent match and was the loudest cheering member of the audience.
“She does call it e-games, so I’m not sure how much she knows about it,” Amber joked.
The national competition will begin on Dec. 1.
Contact Robert Maharry at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or [email protected]