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Esports Explodes on Campus in Time for Fall 2020 Play

Niagara University's esports lounge

Niagara University's esports lounge

New esports teams and playing spaces have been announced by a dozen colleges and universities around the country in the last month.

The Ohio University Board of Trustees has committed $650,000 to build a 2,600-square foot esports space at Ohio University's main campus in Athens, according to student reporting. The facility will house a competition room that could support up to 50 gaming machines, a social gaming area, office space and a broadcast booth.

The institution's Lancaster campus also recently launched its own esports club, whose inception was "more or less accidental." When a communications professor asked students for ideas on how to improve campus life, one student proposed the club, and the professor agreed. Prof and student worked together to get the club off the ground.

Niagara University has opened its new sports and gaming area. "The Nest," as it's named, has 2,200 square feet of space and features 70- and 86-inch smart TVs into which students can plug their gaming consoles. A dedicated esports area for the school's esports club includes 12 high-end gaming computers, 24-inch 1080-pixel monitors and three 50-inch TVs.

The club recently joined the Electronic Gaming Federation's national intercollegiate esports league and has plans to compete in four games: League of Legends, Rocket League, Overwatch and Super Smash Bros.

"We know that state-of-the-art learning facilities are only part of the equation when it comes to the student experience in higher education," said Executive Vice President Debra Colley, in a campus article about the opening. "The Nest provides a welcoming, comfortable, high-tech space ... that will significantly enhance our students' extracurricular experience and aligns with our strategic plan to foster a culture that puts students first."

An underused theater attached to the convention center in South Bend, IN, is being turned into an esports arena, which will serve nearby Bethel University. Bethel said last year that it would form an esports team beginning in fall 2020. The partnership with the City of South Bend will supply the team with a dedicated practice space as well as access to the 600-seat arena, formerly named the Bendix Theatre and soon to be renamed the Bendix Arena. The city is investing $2 million in the renovation, according to local media. In addition to a varsity team, the school will also host a club for less serious players. The Christian school noted in a press release that it would "focus on games that fit Bethel's mission and values, avoiding games that have gratuitous violence or objectify women."

"It might seem strange for Bethel to be starting a team," said Christopher Hess, Bethel's associate athletic director, who is leading the esports efforts, in a statement. "But this is the future, and a lot of students are attracted to a school where they can participate as part of a team instead of video games being a solitary activity. In a day where living life through your own private device may seem like the way to go, the opportunity to have community, team and family is actually an exciting move in a direction that is much more who we want to be at Bethel University."

The University of Michigan-Flint announced plans to launch an esports team, also beginning in fall 2020. The institution has allocated funding for new equipment and a space on campus where esports participants can practice, train and compete. In a university statement, school officials said they consider esports "as more than just gaming; it's a potential recruitment and retention tool, a way to engage students who do not otherwise participate in campus activities as well."

According to Kristi Hottenstein, the school's vice chancellor for enrollment management, esports "is a hot topic right now, and more and more students are looking at esports as an important criterion for selecting a university — either as an academic discipline or a social pursuit."

"In the next 10 years, I expect every university to offer esports to students," added Jason Gooding, a support specialist in the university's Information Technology Services department, who plans to help lead the team in its first year. "I know students who have expressed interest in game design, marketing and production, cybersecurity and management. The possibility to make aspects of esports an academic discipline is something I hope we'll explore in the near future."

Immaculata University in Pennsylvania will also be adding esports to campus activities as the newest varsity sport. The co-ed team will compete as a member of the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) as well as in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Intercollegiate Esports competitions. The university has opened up a dedicated gaming room in an administration building. Current plans are for Immaculata players to compete in Overwatch, League of Legends, Rocket League, Madden Football, Super Smash Brothers and FIFA Soccer.

Adding esports in the same timeframe is Concordia University in Seward, NE. Leading the program will be Ryan Hinds, a co-founder and board member of the Nebraska Schools eSports Association and former high school esports coach. The university has already joined NACE, and students will play League of Legends, Overwatch and Rocket League. The school said that the esports program would have a dedicated facility, "outfitted with the latest technology and tools to help put you in a position to win."

Heartland Community College in Normal, IL, has plans for an esports team. A 12-student team will play League of Legends as a NACE member. The college plans to hire a part-time coach during the spring semester, in time for recruiting players to begin competing in the fall.

An esports program will debut this fall for students at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, TX as well. Players will compete in the new "Rattler Esports Arena" on campus. The institution is renovating the space with amphitheater-style seating on the second floor of the University Center to become the team's home. St. Mary's will compete in both NACE and NACE competitor Tespa. The university said it expected to start a search for a head coach soon.

Finlandia University in Hancock, MI, which has been debating the addition of esports, recently gave it the green light. The program will be managed by the athletics department and housed on the main campus until a dedicated esports arena is established. In the meantime, the institution has begun its recruitment for a full-time director, with the expectation of hosting a co-ed roster of 20 esports student athletes. A campus survey found that more than half of the student population was already active in gaming, and 55 percent said they'd be interested in playing esports as a varsity activity.

Waldorf University in Forest City, IA, recently introduced a new head coach for its esports program and announced its intention to build an esports arena. Coach Scott Belmont came from New Jersey's Union County College, which launched its esports program in 2018; he also has experience in coaching "pre-professional players." The new arena is expected to house 12 gaming computers for players.

Spring Hill College in Mobile, AL, another NACE school, has formed its esports team, the first such collegiate team in the state, according to Athletic Director Joe Niland. The program, he said in a statement, will "elevate the value of a Spring Hill College education to a new kind of student."

Tell Campus Technology about your college or university's esports intentions at [email protected].

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