Northern Illinois University students and community members now have expanded access to casual and competitive video gaming. The new NIU Esports Arena on the main DeKalb campus and planned Esports Cafés at NIU Naperville and NIU Hoffman Estates regional centers, featuring gaming technology donated by Dell, are part of an effort by NIU to expand esports in order to build community, promote healthy gaming and support the positive social, competitive and educational aspects of video gaming.
Esports – video games played competitively – are growing on college campuses, with more than 120 varsity teams and 200 competitive club teams in the U.S. as of January 2019. While NIU does not have a varsity team, the university does have an active Esports Club and a competitive club team.
“Esports offers many of the same benefits as traditional sports, improving communication, teamwork and time management skills,” says Anne Kaplan, vice president of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development. “Our esports players have learned to persevere to attain their goals and rise to the next level. These traits not only help improve their video gaming; they’re also what employers look for when hiring college graduates.”
“To prepare students for a constantly changing, connected world, universities and colleges are embracing technology to stay in the forefront of education. Emerging technology, like virtual reality headsets and gaming platforms, deliver new kinds of collaborative and engaging learning experiences to students,” said Jennifer Sigmund, senior higher education strategist at Dell. “Esport programs offer students not only the opportunity to engage with the technology, but also help prepare them for future career success, by providing them with an environment to enhance their communication, collaboration and team building skills.”
The Esports Arena in DeKalb is open to all registered NIU students and is home to the NIU Esports Club, a recognized NIU Sport Club and student organization with more than 75 active members. Esports Club members are thrilled with the new equipment from Dell, which has helped to expand club attendance.
Each location features twelve Dell Precision 3630 desktops, which are configured specifically for powering stunning video graphics with an Intel i7-8700 6-Core processor and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card. Dell has also provided gaming monitors, gaming keyboards, mice, headsets and webcams.
“The club has been using the computers to host practices for the competitive teams, to host LAN meetings (gatherings where individuals connect multiple computers over a local area network to play multiplayer games together), and as a great way for students to de-stress and play some casual games in their free time,” says Conner Vagle, a senior majoring in communication studies and the president of the NIU Esports Club. “With the new computers, we’ve seen an increase in students attending our LAN events because of the ability to play without lugging a machine to the arena.”
Vagle says the new equipment is already making a positive impact on the competitive teams, as well.
“We’re just getting into our competitive seasons, but we have already seen increased and more rigorous practices from the teams,” he says. “Our Overwatch and League of Legends (LoL) teams will be competing in the Tespa and College LoL seasons, respectively, starting over the next week or so, and they will be using the new equipment. We look forward to having our teams use the computers as their competitive seasons get underway!”
While the DeKalb Esports Arena is open only to registered NIU students, the Esports Cafés at NIU Naperville and NIU Hoffman Estates will be open to the public for an hourly fee, allowing community members to play on the same top-of-the-line equipment used by the NIU club and competitive teams.
“We are delighted to introduce NIU Esports Cafés to the region,” Kaplan says. “One goal for our regional centers is to build community, and that can come in the form of graduate classes, professional gatherings or competitive video gaming! We hope our students, alumni and friends will enjoy this exciting new opportunity, and we thank Dell for working with us to make it possible.”
The use of PCs and video game consoles at NIU’s Esports Cafés will be free to registered NIU students and available to the public for an hourly fee. PC games can be played through a player’s own Battle.net and Steam accounts. The cafés will offer a variety of console games on Xbox, PS4 and Nintendo Switch. Most paid games require the user’s own account or a license to play.
NIU Esports is planning to host theme nights, tournaments and viewing parties throughout the year at the new spaces. The cafés will also be available for local high school and community college teams to rent for practice or tournaments. Community members are welcome to use the cafés for corporate events, online or LAN tournaments, parties or just a friendly drop-in game.
The NIU Esports Arena on NIU’s DeKalb campus is open only to registered students daily from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. The NIU Esports Café in Naperville will open Thursday, Feb. 28, and Hoffman Estates will open on Thursday, April 4. Both locations will be open to the public on Thursdays and Fridays from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 11 p.m. and are free for registered NIU students with a valid OneCard. The cost for the public is $5 per hour or $45 for 10 hours, with special event pricing available to groups. The cafés are located at NIU Naperville (1120 E. Diehl Road, Naperville, Illinois) and NIU Hoffman Estates (5555 Trillium Blvd., Hoffman Estates, Illinois).
To reserve a café for your birthday or wedding party, esports practice or tournament, corporate team building or other group event, contact [email protected].