Esports Special Interest Community builds connections and career possibilities

Students who love video games or just want to learn more about them now have a new way to connect with others who share their interests. NIU’s Esports Special Interest Community is one of 13 special residential communities on campus dedicated to strengthening the connections between NIU students through themed programming, including academic, social and career-focused events. The esports floor, which was founded in fall 2019, aims to build a community of students with a curiosity or passion for esports – the growing field of competitive video gaming.

NIU Esports Arena attendants share a laugh in the hallway outside the arena.

“It’s a pretty unique experience having a community in the esports scene,” says Jireh Goodwin, a third-year NIU business major who is the esports community leader. “When you bring players together, not only can you have a good time; you can also build relationships, form teams and elevate yourself to the highest level of play.”

Zac Birch, assistant director of student leadership for NIU Housing and Residential Services, says NIU’s special interest and living-learning communities (which are similar to special interest communities but with a more academic focus) are all about intentional relationship development.

“While we strive to build community in all of our residence hall floors, these communities, which focus on a common identity such as LGBTQA or a shared academic focus such as business careers, typically have a lot more interconnections,” he says. “When students move in in the fall, they immediately share interests and can build those connections.”

Birch says that programming focused on career exploration, academics and social life also builds connections with faculty and staff, which helps students be successful in the future.

Birch says that, according to a Gallup poll, “the odds of being engaged at work post college are 2.2 times higher if students have a mentor who encourage them to pursue their goals and dreams in college.  Additionally, odds of thriving in areas of life well-being are 1.7 times higher if students have a mentor. So having those intentional connections with faculty and staff really does make a difference.”

Goodwin is one of several esports community residents who plans to pursue a career in the video game or esports industry, so he appreciates the series of career-related lectures and discussions the community is offering this schoolyear.

On Nov. 13, 2019, the community heard from Suzanne Jackiw, Corporate Counsel for Epic Games, a U.S. video game and software developer. On Jan. 22, 2020, they spoke with Jonathan Pan, Product Lead for Amazon Game Studios, the video game design segment of Amazon. Later this semester, the group will hear from esports coaches, professional players, and marketing and account managers. These discussions – some virtual and some in person – allow the students to hear from and ask questions of people who have made a career in esports.

Goodwin says for him the highlight of the career lecture series so far has been realizing how much the NIU students and esports professionals actually have in common. “They’re in a professional setting, but you can tell they love games as much as we do, and you can see how their love of games helped drive them to where they are now in such successful careers. It’s uplifting to see that – that they’ve become successful and are willing to come back and talk to us, who want to do the same.”

While many of the residents were already avid gamers before signing up for the esports community, some, such as Jessica Rangel, a sophomore majoring in nursing, are new to esports.

“One thing that I can gain from living on this floor is that I’ll learn a little bit more about the video games and maybe with practice get a little better and more knowledgeable about them,” Rangel says.

For video game lovers, one of the major draws of the esports community is its location in the newly renovated Neptune East Hall, in close proximity to central campus and, of course, the NIU Esports Arena.

Ryan Diss, a freshman majoring in biomedical engineering, says, “I came to the community because I was looking to play esports competitively in college. I came here so that I could develop myself as a person and as a player. Being able to live this close to the arena and this close to all my classes allows me to do all that conveniently without a lot of stress.”

Whether they’re beginners or competitive players, all NIU students will find a welcome community in the Esports Special Interest Community, or just dropping by the Esports Arena for a casual game.

According to Goodwin, “Everyone’s welcome to come to the Esports Arena, just to socialize or enjoy playing games. It can get as casual or as competitive as we want it to be, and I think that’s the beautiful thing about having an esports community here on campus. Everybody is welcome, no matter what level they play at.”

The NIU Esports Special Interest Community is a collaboration between NIU Housing and Residential Services, in the Division of Student Affairs, and NIU Esports, in the Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development.

More information about the Esports Special Interest Community and about NIU Esports can be found at niu.edu/esports. More information about the university’s special interest and living learning communities can be found on the Housing and Residential Services Communities website.

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