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Want to play football without breaking a sweat or go on a magical quest without leaving the comfort of your chair? UNT students can do just that and much more thanks to the new eSports program. Whether they are looking for a fun way to meet new people or engage in competitions, the new eSports program has something for all video gamers on campus.
Video gaming has been taking place on UNT’s campus since 2009, and several student gaming groups have formed throughout the years, but it wasn’t until the summer of 2016 that things starting leveling up. Students approached UNT President Neal Smatresk with the idea for an official eSports program, and various players starting coming together to discuss what could be done. The Media Library in Chilton Hall offered space that it was looking to renovate, Recreational Sports volunteered to coordinate tournaments and Elizabeth With, vice president for student affairs, offered the initial seed money to get things started.
Creating The Nest
Students had already been using the Media Library as a place for gaming with their own equipment, so it was the perfect location for a new eSports center, and the students proved to be valuable experts for the design.
“We knew this project would have a student-driven focus, so we consulted with students and received their input when designing the new space,” said Erin Miller, head of the Media Library. “We wanted to get what the students would support.”
From that collaboration, The Nest was born. The new space houses 15 game stations equipped with Dell Aurora VR-Capable gaming PCs and four moveable tables. In addition, the area just outside of The Nest, known as the Media Library Commons, features 16 console stations including Wii, Wii U, PS2, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Retron 5, six Dell Aurora VR-Capable gaming PCs, four viewing stations for movies and a VR console with headsets. There is also a smaller facility, The Nest at Discovery Park Library, which features five more Dell PCs. In addition to playing games, the PCS can be used for game design, multimedia work or 3-D immersion.
The Nest had a soft open in May, but word quickly spread and student interest quickly grew. The Nest officially opened during First Flight Week in August, and student use has steadily increased ever since. In Sept., 1,000 students utilized the facility, and in Oct., it rose to 1,275. Afternoons see the most use, but there are always students gaming from opening to close each day.
“Students are coming to The Nest for the community environment as well as the gaming,” said Diane Robson, media librarian and advisor for the student gaming groups. “They know that if they come here, then they will make friends. We often even see students helping each other with their homework – when they are not debating who the strongest superhero is.”
“We offer a welcoming environment for every student,” added Miller.
Creating an inviting gaming center was only one step in establishing a formal eSports program. Since competition is an important aspect of gaming for students, UNT is making it a major component for the eSports program.
This semester, several gaming tournaments were held through Rec Sports’ intramurals program. League of Legends and Streetfighter were the first events, followed by Madden 18, Rocket League, Super Smash Brothers and FIFA 18.
“With eSports tournaments, we are serving students we previously had not been with our more traditional intramurals,” said Laurie Klein, director of recreational sports. “Our plan is for the tournaments to continue through intramural sports, but in fall 2018, UNT will be fielding three teams who will compete in collegiate competitions for League of Legends, Overwatch and Hearthstone. Tryouts will be held in the spring, and scheduled practices will take place in The Nest.”
For the first year, teams will consist of current students, but in year two, efforts could begin for recruiting students to UNT for eSports and possibly offering scholarships. Other universities currently offer anywhere from $100 to $1,000 in scholarships for students to attend and join their eSports teams. Participation also could lead to sponsorships and professional opportunities for students.
Rec Sports will be hiring a new coordinator who will continue to build the eSports program and oversee the varsity and club teams. High-level student gamers will be able to serve as team coaches.
“There is no specific eSports model from other schools, so we are taking bits and pieces from other collegiate programs,” said Klein. “This is a very new area, and we are hoping to get out ahead of other university programs.”
For now, funding of the eSports program will continue to come from Rec Sports, but UNT will be exploring other revenue sources as well in order to ensure the program’s sustainability. The Nest is currently streaming tournaments through Twitch, which could provide funding down the line.
Klein also is exploring potential partnerships with professional gaming companies who are beginning to set up shop in the Dallas area. The city of Frisco is currently creating a training academy for gamers to participate on three professional teams, so new opportunities for both the UNT eSports program and students could be possible.
Innovation and Collaboration
It’s certainly an exciting time for UNT to create an eSports program, but none of it would be possible without different departments working together to bring the multi-faceted vision to life.
“Innovation and collaboration are the keys to success,” said Miller. “We would not be where we are today without our partnership with Student Affairs and Rec Sports. It’s been great for us to have a role in this exciting endeavor.”
Photos and video by Ross Ocampo