With the influx of eSports popularity crossing the nation and entering the college and university scene, a good number of students and schools have begun their own esports teams and associations. Recently, Western Michigan University’s computer lab gained the addition of an eSports section that would not only be open to the official eSports school teams but to all students as well when not being used by the teams. This opens many possible venues for the University in terms of drawing in new students and revenue from a new sport. The University is also renovating a theater into an eSports arena, dedicating $500k to the facility. Another $250k will go the Esports@WMU initiative. WMU kicking off providing spaces for eSports use could jumpstart a new trend across other universities and colleges seeking to broaden their schools’ interests and community activities.
A major issue students face when moving to college is the lack of resources they had access to when they live at home or even resources they were unable to access at home. For many gamers this means either leaving behind their beloved means of gaming or being unable to afford gaming during their college time. For this university to provide this space for their students, they have given them the means to do what they love. It would mean that students who do not have a rig, have a chance to play with their friends either at the University or online. This also provides an opportunity to make new friends with those who attend your university and are interested in the same games as you are.
On the eSports side of this, the teams have a place to meet up in person not only to compete but to practice as well with all team members running the same rig and having all equipment necessary. As someone who has participated in a tournament before, one of the issues players faced was the equipment malfunctioning and unable to run properly. With dedicated rigs, this problem would be negated. The new arena also gives a place for people to attend the tournaments and partake in them as they would any other eSports arena event. Even just small in-house tournaments could garner more attention from students and gain a bigger following. A dedicated space also gives the teams a place in which to draw in new members and even help other teams be formed.
On the other hand, a dedicated space requires upkeep that may or may not be met. With large numbers of students using a single space, furniture for that space is chosen based upon the ability to last thousands of uses. If the users do not respect the space and equipment then it could potentially degrade quickly. WMU chose pieces of furniture that are high quality and are made of durable material. For instance, the DXRacer chairs put in the space are covered with a vinyl-like material which can withstand heavy use, they also provide an ergonomic seating for gamers to use for long hours at a time. The University and students will still need to make sure this space is kept up as well as, if not better, than their other facilities.
Western Michigan University is certainly getting a jump on this initiative, and as they are amongst the first to provide such a space for their competitive students, it just may give them an edge on their competition. Having such a space means that they will be more likely to host competitions on their home turf in person, as well as they will have the opportunity to practice face to face more. Often players that are able to communicate and get to know one another in person do better as a team when facing off in competitions.
Altogether, this advancement seems to be aimed at breaking into a recently popular sport that could work out with the proper leadership and planning. If done well, it could potentially go on to be the standard for future eSport Campus Arenas. Other universities looking to branch into the eSports scene should definitely keep their eyes on these initiatives for what works and what doesn’t.