When Conner Vagle arrived at NIU as a transfer student in 2018, he had already reached out to the then-president of the student-run NIU Esports Club to ask how he could get involved. With several years of experience as an esports player, fan and shoutcaster (the esports equivalent of a play-by-play announcer), Vagle was excited to be part of this growing club at NIU.
Since then, Vagle has witnessed the development of the NIU Esports initiative, whose mission is to build community around esports at NIU, promote healthy gaming practices, and support new technologies in learning and research. The NIU Esports Club is one facet of NIU Esports, and this registered student organization is the largest sport club on campus, with more than 100 registered members, about 80 of whom are active.
In the past year, NIU Esports has also created the NIU Esports Arena in Neptune North Hall, which provides dedicated space and equipment for Esports Club meetings, practices and tournaments, as well as free game play for NIU students. New Esports Cafés at NIU Naperville and NIU Hoffman Estates welcome community members as well as students for game play, tournaments and events, and NIU Naperville hosted the first Illinois high school Overwatch state championship in April of 2019.
Now, NIU Esports is aiming to continue the momentum of this banner year as Vagle takes on a new role as NIU Esports General Manager.
Vagle says one of the things he’s most looking forward to this year is the new Esports Special Interest Community, a dedicated floor in the newly renovated Neptune East residence hall for students who share a common interest in esports.
According to Vagle, “There was so much interest in this community that it filled within a single week, with 25 students registered, so we’re really happy about that.” Vagle, who recently graduated with his bachelor’s degree in communication with an emphasis in media studies, is pleased that the residence hall community has attracted students from a variety of majors and years of study. “We have quite a few engineering and computer science majors, as you might expect,” he says, “but there’s a whole range, including English, marketing, pre-nursing, all sorts of different majors.”
The Esports Special Interest Community will offer a series of lectures and discussions for members about esports careers, which will also be open to members of the NIU Esports Club, with some lectures open to all NIU students. “You might be surprised by the range of careers available in esports,” Vagle says. “Just as in traditional sports, there are career tracks in coaching, broadcasting, marketing and even contract law, as well as video game design and development.”
As Esports general manager, Vagle will also be overseeing the three different NIU Esports locations, working with the Esports Arena and Esports Café attendants, helping out with community tournaments and events, and continuing to build the NIU Esports initiative and brand.
The NIU Naperville campus recently demonstrated its potential as a professional quality location for esports tournaments when NIU Naperville hosted the recent Illinois high school Overwatch state final championship in the Esports Café and auditorium.
“We’re very thankful for the opportunity we had to host the tournament at our facility,” says Vagle. “Even though it was a small event, it was the same kind of layout the professional tournaments use, so we were able to gain valuable experience, and we’ll apply what we learned when we host our next esports tournament.”
While Vagle is looking forward to hosting larger tournaments in the next several years, students and community members who are interested in participating right away have a number of ways to get involved. The NIU Naperville Esports Café is now hosting Fighting Game Fridays and Sport Game Saturdays, which will feature a different set of games each week. The NIU Hoffman Estates Esports Café is hosting the Super Smash Bros.™ Ultimate Summer Showdown every Saturday night. Epic and Fortnite tournaments are being planned to start late August in Naperville. For more details visit the NIU Esports events page.
NIU students, staff and community members can find out more about upcoming events and other ways to get involved at niu.edu/esports. Like NIU Esports on Facebook to get updates about tournaments, club meetings and more.