Currently more and More universities are delving into the esports scene, creating and expanding their programs in the hopes of becoming the top players in the game. The University of Akron is one such University that is developing it’s esports program into that which would be akin to that of a traditional athletic program with varsity, club, and recreational divisions. This also includes the necessary facilities to facilitate the growth and success of such a program.
The University has opted to renovate spaces to provide three different facilities for gaming:
- The InfoCision Stadium-Summa Field will have 1,222 square feet of its first floor developed into an arena for matches. Akron has emphasized that there will be a hyper wall display, which is the combination of several monitors to form a single larger image, for spectators to view the happenings of the game. This is similar to professional esports arenas. As with professional arenas, the facility will hold a studio in which to broadcast occurrences within the facility.
- Keeping with the first floor renovations, the Jean Hower Taber Student union will have an even more sizable change. Located here will be the 2,646 square foot esports center. This will seem to be the main hub of esports for the University of Akron that will contain a viewing lounge and devices for playing. This is also where the varsity teams will have their training spaces exclusive to them.
- Finally, the Drs. Gary B. and Pamela S. Williams Honor College will be home to the recreational gaming cafe. At 1,338 square feet, this is where students will be able to use devices for free, provided that they are in good academic standing. Those who are not students, such as employees of the University, alumni, and anyone else will have to purchase passes to use the equipment.
By locating these facilities on the first floors, the University is keeping with their initiative that esports is a program that is open to all people and needs to be accessible. Students will be able to access the facilities without having to use stairs or elevators, meaning that students who are unable to use these vertical modes of transportation will not need to figure out a difficult alternate means to use the facilities. Being accessible is a key push by not only the University, but the program itself. The director and head coach of the esports program, Michael Fay Jr., has stated in the University’s official announcement that the facilities “reflect our program’s commitment to ensure – whether you’re a student who likes to game casually or are a dedicated competitive player – that there’s a space for you to celebrate your love of gaming with others who share that passion. We’re not divided by the type of game we play, the platform we play it on, or how competitively we play it.” The facilities themselves seem to reflect this, with the inclusion of not only 90 available PCs, but also 30 available consoles (Playstation 4 Pro and Xbox One X). The program has also partnered with the audio equipment manufacturer Audio-Technica for the full scope of their audio related needs within their esports program.
This grand initiative has been met with pushback however, from not only the faculty at the University of Akron, but also the Ohio chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), who believe that them and the rest of the faculty should have been included in this decision process. The reason for this pushback is due to the timing and sourcing of funds for this endeavor. The announcement of the initiative comes just a day after the announcement that the University would be cutting 80 degree programs. The classes themselves will still be available and Interim President of the University, John Green has said that they will be “repurposed to other University of Akron programs” and that the University “does not envision any layoffs.” The choice of programs to phase outcomes after reviewing which degrees suffered from the lowest count of student enrollment. As this is the case, the University estimates that only about 1,000 of their 22,000 enrolled will be affected by this change and that those already enrolled in these programs will still be able to finish their degree tracks. The funds from the cuts are not only to go to this program but into other programs and degrees that are becoming of more interest and need.
It’s quite easy to see why those who are receiving the cuts would be frustrated that so soon after receiving cuts, that a grand announcement for renovations for esports would be happening. The University administration and governing board received a letter of complaint from the AAUP of Ohio, in which a professor of History at the University of Cincinnati and the president of the Ohio chapter of AAUP expresses his criticisms of the initiative. His defining quote of the letter states, “It is as though you are saying: Well, we are bored with education so let’s play games instead.” Esports is a generally new topic for people and is seen as “not a real sport,” however, the University of Akron and other universities are looking into a program that not only focuses on gaming but healthy players as well so that they may be the best they can be. Esports is also gaining track in both the professional and collegiate levels as a full-fledged sport akin to that of traditional programs.
While the University of Akron is making great strides in the development of their esports program and facilitation of creating welcoming spaces for all students to be able to explore their passions and make connections with other students, the push backs on their decisions may prove difficult on the growth of their program. It is a situation that will need time to develop and flourish in order to see the positives and the negatives of the direction in which the University of Akron has decided to go in. Still, the number of universities developing esports programs and facilities continues to grow and will be looking to these spearheaders for guidance. The University of Akron will be a case study for other universities make note of.