Ready, set, go; E-sports are here to stay. Are you ready to take them on?

Have you heard the term E-sports mentioned around your campus recently?  If you haven’t, it may be time to ask your students what’s hot in the tech world.  I am confident to say that E-sports will certainly come up quickly in that conversation!

Last summer, my CIO came back from a meeting he had attended with peers from other universities and he mentioned that a few of those colleges had developed an E-sports game room that garnered tremendous interest from their student body.  He asked me to look into those campuses to see what they were doing and consider how we might implement something like this on our own campus.

Esports banner web icon for business game and futuristic, Strategy, teamwork, professional, competitive, and success.

As our students returned to campus last fall, ironically, several of them approached our student life staff asking what it would take to create a gaming space to share with others who have the same interests.  You may have students who were like ours: They were a moving caravan of gamers taking over the “perfect classroom” on campus during the off hours in an effort to compete with so many who share the same love of electronic gaming.  While the gamers themselves were harmless in their form of entertainment, often the remnants of disconnected technology in those classrooms created an issue left for our helpdesk to deal with as professors returned to teach the next day.

So the stage was set.  We have a portion of our student body expressing interest in something that has already proven to be successful on other campuses. As I began to dig into the topic of E-sports, it quickly became overwhelming at times talking to the forerunners who have already committed to producing this idea of a gaming space – whether it be for campus entertainment or taking it to the level of competing in collegiate athletics.  For us, the question was how do we go about making this a reality on our campus and just how far do we take it?

As we first began looking into gaming on our campus, the first step was to identify a space that could accommodate large groups of students while also being available most hours of the day, including weekends.  Since we quickly identified the space, our next step was to meet with the leaders of the group calling for a game room to better understand what they envisioned. After many discussions, surveys and more discussions, we put together a plan to develop a game room space that would allow all students to feel welcome to participate in popular gaming. We balanced the stations to a few consoles of Xbox, PlayStation and the Nintendo Switches.  We also provided gaming monitors for walk-in PC gamers to hook up to and a projection system that any gamer could hook up to for tournaments held in the room. You will note that we really hadn’t created an E-sports arena by any means, but we did develop a space where students could stop in and have some fun while socializing with their peers. We knew that we hadn’t touched too deeply into the E-sports world, yet. We recognize that what we have created is merely a starting point.  As we close out the spring semester with our new game room, the PC gamers are now beginning to inquire about developing what they are seeing on other campuses, an E-sports program.

Teenager playing Fortnite

One has to know his own limitations and that is quickly evident when it comes to my level of expertise with E-sports.  I have had the pleasure of watching my son play his Xbox games at home for several years, but unfortunately, that is not a qualifier for this E-sports world.  E-sports take some of those console games to a highly competitive level, but ask any E-sports fan and they will most likely tell you it’s all about PC gaming and not the console world most of us watch our kids play at home.   I needed to find sources of other colleagues who have either experienced the wave of E-sports fanatics on their campus or ones that are riding a similar wave that we are as we begin to explore this arena.

At the 2018 fall meeting of NYCHES, I had the opportunity to inquire about what my peers at other campuses around New York State were doing with E-sports.  Our members were in a round-table discussion of various topics when I opened the door to E-sports by asking if anyone else was also looking into this, where they were,  and what had they discovered that would help us. This topic quickly became a hot potato that sparked much conversation from campuses at varying stages of E-sports implementation.  We quickly identified campuses such as RIT and Broome Community College that are well on their way with E-sports to others such as ourselves here at St. Bonaventure who are at the infancy stage of what appears to be then next best thing since the introduction of Amazon Prime!  As we ran out of time at the fall meeting, it was clear that E-sports on college campuses is an exciting time with many questions from almost all campuses on shaping the sport to fit the wants and needs of our students, to the ability of each campus to provide and support this initiative.  I anxiously walked away from the fall NYCHES conference with some great information to take back to my CIO and I couldn’t wait to tell others back on campus about how successful E-sports has already become on so many campuses already.

arm with video game controller

Fast forward to spring of 2019.  Our spring NYCHES meeting was held on the campus of RIT and I couldn’t wait to hear updates from colleagues on their E-sports progress.  I also had a few new questions to ask and really looked forward to sharing ideas with my peers. One of the best features of our NYCHES meetings is having the opportunity to suggest a round-table  topic where members can share what works and what doesn’t on their own campus. Being right on the home turf of RIT’s E-sports teams, we were fortunate to hear from Ron Dodge, one of the founding students of the institution’s E-sports programs.  Ron did a great job of presenting everything he has been involved in from the inception of E-sports on the RIT campus to the success it has become today. It hasn’t always been easy, but with many hours of time put into E-sports on campus, RIT really seems to have a well-organized platform to model for the rest of us.  

So what are my takeaways one year after first hearing about E-sports?  Here is a brief list of items to consider:

  1. Do your research on E-sports and don’t be afraid to ask questions.  NYCHES members have been a tremendous resource for me at our meetings as well as on our group email list.  
  2. Start small and get some “wins” under your belt.  There are so many platforms and games available that it is very easy to be overwhelmed.  We chose to go with a game room that quickly drew a wide variety of gamers. Many of them are recreational players but we also drew in the more serious gamers who are now buying into that next level, which will focus on the E-sports platform.
  3. Your students will be very excited to jump into this arena, but pick a few who will assist you as leaders and mentors.  They all want to play their games, but we know there is a lot of background legwork that needs to be done in order to implement and grow as an organization.  Find those leaders who aren’t afraid to take on these tasks.
  4. Identify a space that works for this purpose.  Think about the location concerning accessibility, possible noise, internet access and a great space to be part of your campus tours!

St. Bonaventure will continue to ask questions, identify a permanent home for E-sports and look to grow as we have seen others do. Although we don’t have a final answer on just how far this will go, I look forward to riding the wave of E-sports hype as long as we can!

Dan Donner

Dan Donner
St. Bonaventure University