Spotlight on The Conglomerate Squad: Winners of the 2023 Australian STEM Video Game Challenge 

Year 9 student Sonny Whittaker and his siblings – Isla, grade 7, Mathieson, grade 10 and Michael, grade 11 - are a Queensland based homeschooled family living in a remote outback area, 6 hours west of Brisbane. Their team, The Conglomerate Squad, are also back-to-back winners of the Australian STEM Video Game challenge, winning in 2022 and again in 2023 – and they are the first in the competitions history to do so!

The Australian STEM Video Game Challenge ( is a free national video game development competition for students in years 3 to 12, where teams of 1-4 students design and develop a video game based on a given theme. Entries are judged by teachers and industry experts and winning entries are showcased at the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) held in Melbourne. PAX Aus is one of the southern hemisphere’s largest games and interactive entertainment exhibitions. 

Their team’s creation, Battle of Batone, is a digital card game that runs on locally hosted servers - meaning friends and family can easily link up and play together. It centred on this year’s theme, Construction/Destruction. In the first stage players compete to build fortresses and aim to destroy opponents’ fortresses in stage two.

Talking about their game, Sonny said “We entered the Year 10-12 open category. Isla is in Grade 7, and I am in Grade 9 so stepping up was a challenge, but one we were more than ready for… It took over six months to make. We started in February and submitted the game in August. We spent hours and hours working to get it finished and looking amazing. Things were hard and we sometimes didn’t agree on everything, but we persisted.”

As the winners of the competition, the team were given custom hoodies displaying their game logo, as well as tickets to attend PAX. They also get their game showcased at ACER’s stall in the PAX Rising section. Due to the enormous distance, they were unable to attend last year, but Sonny said this year they were more prepared. “Mathieson… won a Future Shapers award run by CSIRO. The prize was an experience related to STEM, something they could use to inspire them for the future. They agreed to help us get to PAX which would be his experience. We also received sponsorship and support from ACS.”

Cynthia Gusman-Nolan, Project Manager of the ACS ICT Gateway to Industry Schools Program (GISP) said "it is important that the GISP recognises the Home Schooling Network, as there are many hundreds of remotely located students who have outstanding ICT skills, and should not be forgotten"  She goes on to say “As the ICT GISP, we have gone the extra mile and have reached out to the Home Schooling Network to help them find their place in the technology industry, by providing them with resources, and opportunities such as travelling down to Melbourne to receive their award at PAX, in the case of the wonderful Conglomerate Squad”.

The family travelled to Melbourne via Canberra taking opportunity to explore and learn while visiting places like Parliament House, the Mint, and the CSIRO Discovery Centre. Arriving at PAX, Sonny says it ”…was huge and awesome. The amount of people was extremely intimidating, we were quite overwhelmed at first. But it was heaps of fun, seeing and playing all the games, watching panels, and talking to members of the industry. I was proud of us at our award ceremony, standing on stage and feeling like we achieved something big.” 

Mathieson, chief programmer of Battle of Batone, said about the experience. “I was excited to finally go to PAX. I still can’t believe how many people sponsored and believed in us and I am extremely grateful for the support. I aspire to have a career in games, and PAX was the perfect opportunity for learning about the industry and making connections… I find it fascinating how many jobs in STEM there are, and in nearly every career in our modern world, you can find STEM aspects. I hope the story of Conglomerate Squad can inspire others that with effort, teamwork, confidence, and passion, greatness can be achieved.” 

To see a video of their game, please visit