Can’t stop the snake: Battlesnake continues into new competition season

Posted 5/6/20

Local techie Gage Pacifera continues to teach kids how to create computer programs that can compete in the “Battlesnake” game, even after a six-week program that culminated in a …

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Can’t stop the snake: Battlesnake continues into new competition season

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Local techie Gage Pacifera continues to teach kids how to create computer programs that can compete in the “Battlesnake” game, even after a six-week program that culminated in a tournament April 23.

“It was fun,” Pacifera said. “We had five completed student snakes participate in a series of knockout matches, and the winner was ‘Coolsnake,’ created by a Port Townsend eighth-grader.”

The local Battlesnake group consists of nine kids divided into four teams, with five mentors to help them.

“Our Salish Snake Squad group focuses on the Olympic Peninsula,” Pacifera said. “Currently, we have kids from in and around Port Townsend and Sequim participating. But we also have a couple of other kids participating from outside our target area: one high-schooler from Eastern Washington who has family here, and a friend of a local participant who lives in Austria.”

One Salish Snake Squad kid took part in the parent-and-student division of the Battlesnake “Stay Home and Code” competition, in which he competed against other children from all over the world.

“He got fourth place there,” said Pacifera.

Pacifera said the “Stay Home and Code” competition was an online substitute for an in-person event scheduled for Victoria, British Columbia, where Battlesnake originated.

“That tournament also served as a fundraiser for Food Banks Canada,” Pacifera said. “It looks like it was well attended, with about 140 teams raising more than $22,000 in Canadian dollars.”

Pacifera’s focus now is getting more people involved in Battlesnake.

“Battlesnake has been building its audience for a few years, and has lots of great word-of-mouth,” Pacifera said. “They held a series of workshops — I gave one — leading up to a tournament, all of which were livestreamed via Zoom and Twitch, and for the tournament, they had talking-head anchors and live video production, similar to what you’d see for a sports broadcast, or perhaps more specifically, an esports broadcast.”

The Salish Snake Squad hopes to recruit kids in grades 6-12, although Pacifera said the group accommodates younger students, such as a fifth-grade member.

“The teams are organized roughly by level of coding experience, age and location,” Pacifera said. “The first coding experience is most important, so that mentors can work at a pace that isn’t too fast or too slow for members of the team.”

In his work as a mentor for a team of two sisters on the young end of the local group, Pacifera has seen them take pride in building “real coding literacy” he believes will eventually be a huge boon to their career prospects.

“And working with the bigger group, I can see that the kids are having a lot of fun with it and are really interested in seeing what the other kids are doing with their snake programs, so they can use some of those strategies in their own snakes,” Pacifera said.

One fifth-grade student told Pacifera, “I like Battlesnake because it’s a cool coding game, and is more than just printing stuff to the screen, like I would in Python or C++.”

Pacifera hopes to double, perhaps even triple, the number of student participants for the current season, which kicked off April 30.

“The Port Townsend and Jefferson County libraries are both making Battlesnake part of their online summer reading offerings beginning in June, and I expect we’ll see another influx of kids at that point,” Pacifera said. “In the fall, I would love to see teams form at the school level as well, in the form of after-school clubs. The closing of schools drove the timing on getting this started, but our crew of organizers would really like to see this continue on, even when the schools completely reopen.”

Pacifera envisions dozens of teams across the Olympic Peninsula participating in Salish Snake Squad events before going on to compete against developers around the world in the bigger tournaments led by the Battlesnake headquarters crew in Victoria.

“We have student competitions for engineering, such as the FIRST Lego League and robotics, as well as esports and mock trials, but nothing dedicated to software arts,” Pacifera said. “That’s sorely needed in our education system to get our kids excited about and prepared for a job market where software engineering is both growing at a fast rate and experiencing huge shortages of qualified job applicants.”

The Salish Snake Squad meets online every Thursday at 1:30 p.m., via Google Meet, to teach participants how to write code, discuss gameplay strategies and stage matches between players. URLs for the meetings are posted online at porttownsend.ai 30 minutes prior to start time.

For more information, visit porttownsend.ai/battlesnake.

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