Imagine a new school program that is gender-neutral, inclusive to students with physical disabilities, bolsters school pride through competitive meets and is eligible for full and partial scholarships from over 175 colleges and universities. You don’t have to be a gamer to see the value that esports (competitive videogaming) could bring to your school.
Collegiate varsity esports began in 2014 when Robert Morris University created scholarships for a League of Legends e-sports team. Nearly a decade later, over 175 colleges and universities have followed suit, resulting in a $1.38 billion industry in 2022. The videogaming industry is forecasted to grow 7 percent annually and likely to top $200 billion in revenue in 2023.
The industry offers many opportunities for a wide variety of skillsets–and not just at the higher-ed level, but at the K-12 level, too. For example, creatives will find opportunities to develop fictional worlds, math and science interests can lead to careers in programming and engineering, and marketing and project management paths blend the other two. Broadcasting esports has also been a viable path to careers in journalism and entertainment.
Developing an esports program requires a dedicated space. Esports can be a way of encouraging student engagement (particularly from students who have not found other programs of interest), especially if the school can offer a gaming environment that is more robust than what a student might experience at home.
Functional needs are similar in many ways to other athletic programs: requirements include a place to practice and coach, a competition set-up, and areas for broadcasters and spectators. Team building can also be facilitated with soft seating and access to food (traditional sports concessions or vending).
From a design and engineering standpoint, the rooms require thoughtful HVAC systems that can compensate for the heat generated from gaming equipment. Consider the industry’s rapid evolution and plan for the ability to upsize tech with additional empty conduit runs, extra space in electrical panels, and the largest capacity internet connection available. Esports can be especially appealing to students with physical limitations, so discussing inclusivity beyond typical ADA requirements early on is important. The right acoustics and ergonomics can also make a big difference in the performance and success of the team.
The design team can also help educators establish cultural credibility for the new program. Consider locating the facility with adjacencies to other sports or theater programs. Prominently locating the esports space can counter the cultural narrative that gamers belong in “mom’s basement.” Incorporating your school’s athletic branding through murals and logos is consistent with what students can expect in the collegiate environment.
For instance, the University at Buffalo (UB) recently completed a state-of-the-art esports lounge on campus. The design team used aesthetics to respect and reinforce gaming culture through the selection of lighting, wall and floor materials, colors, and other added value enhanced items, such as murals, paintings, logos, statues, etc. Bold graphics, colors, and the traditional gaming “pixel” were celebrated in the UB project through the repetitive use of squares in floor, wall, and ceiling treatments. As a result, the space provides an official and professional-looking place to game that students can feel proud of.
The pandemic delivered explosive growth to the videogame industry and there are no signs that interest in gaming is waning. Now is the time to meet students where they are. In doing so, educators can provide a sense of belonging and an opportunity to guide students to secondary education and even encourage a career doing what they love.
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