Esports – competitive video gaming – is a growing phenomenon on college campuses. In October 2018, there were more than 80 collegiate varsity esports teams and more than 270 collegiate esports clubs in the United States.
NIU recognizes the importance of esports for building community, promoting healthy gaming practices, and supporting new technologies in learning and research. Therefore, as part of the NIU Esports Initiative, the university has created a state-of-the art esports arena that’s open to all students and home to the NIU Esports Club.
The new NIU Esports Arena is now available to registered NIU students, open for gaming from 2 to 11 p.m. every day. The newly renovated space in the lower level of the Neptune North Residence Hall features an esports lab with high performance Dell gaming PCs equipped with Dell monitors and Logitech gaming keyboards, mice and headsets. In the adjoining gallery, there’s a console gaming area featuring a wall-mounted television to connect to Xbox, PS4 and Nintendo Switch systems that are available for check out from the arena attendant. There are also plenty of tables with power and ethernet connections to bring your own computer and play.
“Esports is a key initiative in the university’s commitment to bringing cutting-edge technology to campus and building interdisciplinary connections in academics and extracurricular activities,” says Anne Kaplan, NIU Vice President of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development. “We recognize and encourage the continued growth of our diverse and inclusive esports club. Many student, faculty and staff gamers have come out of the woodwork once they found out we have such a vibrant esports community on campus.”
The Esports Arena is also home to the NIU Esports Club, whose paid members have 24/7 access to the arena to play games and perfect their competitive strategy. Esports Club members are thrilled with the new space and excited to welcome other NIU students to try out the club.
“We’re really excited about the new esports arena because it allows us to have our own practice and meeting space,” says Conner Vagle, a senior majoring in communication studies and the president of the NIU Esports Club. “We’ve been a bit transient, but now that we have our own space and equipment our members won’t need to bring their own computers, unless they want to. We also have a dedicated practice space to help make our teams stronger, to hone our skills and be competitive throughout the school year and beyond.”
Max Jenks, a senior majoring in industrial management and technology engineering with an emphasis in manufacturing, agrees. “The new space allows us to meet in person and talk strategy for our competitive teams, which helps a lot,” he says.
However, even more important than the competitive aspects of esports is the chance to make friends and become part of a community.
Liam Buchanan, an NIU senior majoring in electrical engineering with a minor in applied mathematics, is a past president of the Esports Club and helped build the esports community at NIU.
“I wanted to see the club grow because, within the gaming community it’s all online for the most part,” he says. In contrast, Buchanan says the NIU Esports Club offers a chance for gamers to meet in person with others who share their interests.
“It just promotes this great environment,” he says. “I think that sense of community is what really brings the club together, what really is the shining benefit of joining and having that chance to meet new friends, meet new people to play with who are all involved in the same things you are.”
The Esports Club is hopeful that the space will allow them to expand by welcoming new members who are interested in a wide range of video games.
“The new computers allow us to play a variety of games because the hardware is all top of the line,” says Vagle. “We have really fantastic graphic cards and monitors on the computers, and having the consoles with games on each of them will allow us to expand and open the club up to more people across campus.”
The NIU Esports Club invites all students to come to the free LAN parties they host every other Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. in the NIU Esports Arena in the Neptune North computer lab. The club also hosts in-house games, tournaments and viewing parties.
An open house will take place on Nov. 12, 2018, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. On that day, all are welcome to visit the new arena and try out the equipment. At other times, the arena is only accessible to registered NIU students with a OneCard.
For more information, visit niu.edu/esports or check out the NIU Esports Club on Facebook.