KUTZTOWN — Kutztown University dedicated its new Esports Arena, featuring gaming stations for KU’s esports team.
“This morning marks the culmination of the creation of a home venue for our esports team which has been a part of our campus since 2018,” said KU President Kenneth S. Hawkinson during the ribbon-cutting event on Thursday, Feb. 13. “The boom of esports across the country was the impetus for us to invest $250,000 of McFarland Student Union fees (paid by all students) to create a state-of-the-art facility at Kutztown University.”
More than 170 colleges and universities nationwide participate in esports, “and it’s growing more every day,” he said.
Regional teams include Penn State, Slippery Rock, Drexel, Arcadia, Edinboro, Lafayette, competing in eight games: Rainbow Six Siege, League of Legends, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Overwatch, Rocket League, Magic: The Gathering Arena, Hearthstone and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.
“Thanks to the commitment and hard work of staff members from our information technology, facilities and student affairs, we were able to create an attractive environment for current and prospective students,” said Hawkinson.
Overseen by the Department of Recreation Services, KU’s esports team will be assigned a graduate assistant. The student leading the effort is esports student club president Connor Ellis, class of 2020.
“This is an amazing turnout,” Ellis said to the students and staff crowded within the modern game room. "Ever since I started playing games competitively around 2012, a project like the one you’re standing in today has been a dream of mine. Every day to stand in this room is truly a living dream."
Thanking Hawkinson for considering the project and the staff and eboard he worked with, Ellis said, “You listened to me and made me feel like my voice was heard and valuable.”
The Esports Arena is located in McFarland Student Union in room 157 which at one time served as a game room for playing pool and ping pong.
The modern gaming room features 14 Lenovo Legion T730 Windows 10 computers with I9 Core Processor, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 video card, gaming keyboard, Logitech gaming mouse, Sennheiser GSP 350 headset and wired Razer Wolverine Tournament Edition gamepad. There are also two 75" displays — one for each team — connected to the coach's workstation.
“The computers you see around you are built specifically for gaming so the processors within the computers are cooled to the right temperature and way more expensive than something you would see in a more traditional laptop,” said Ellis. “These computers are capable of displaying hundreds and hundreds of more frames per second than a regular computer would. In gaming, more frames per second gives you quite a large advantage. It’s easier to see things.”
“The whole space is unique because it allows students who don’t have the money to buy a computer like this to participate and practice and come in here and play for KU,” added Ellis.
Each station has a personalized Xpression Gaming Chair from ZipChair featuring the KU esports logo. They fully-recline, have memory foam pillows for the back and head and fully-adjustable arms with gel cushioning.
A club sport that Ellis anticipates will one day become a varsity sport as interest grows, he estimates current interest at approximately 270 students.
“This is very social, as you can imagine,” said Ellis. “Usually video games are played alone. You’re alone in your room. Maybe you’re playing online with friends but you’re alone, so a space like this allows for a much more social environment. That helps coaches a lot because they can walk around. They can interact with the players.”
Ellis hopes that KU will one day offer an esports degree, similar to what Harrisburg University offers. At the moment students do not earn credit but Ellis anticipates that could change in the future.
“Esports management, the kind of stuff I do here to manage the group, there’s big organizations that need managers, so having people train in a degree in that would make the whole esports scene explode even further,” said Ellis.
The KU esports team has been in existence since 2018. Planning for the Esports Arena began about one year ago, “Hard work does actually pay off.”
“We’ve been trying to show the school that this is something that they should invest in and they have, which is excellent,” he said. “As you can imagine, it took a lot of convincing and a lot of hard work and organization to show the school that we mean business and this is a real thing that a lot of schools are participating in.”
Looking around at the gamers, Ellis said, “This is something 20 years ago no one would have thought would happen so it’s definitely a thing of the future. It’s also a new way to learn, a new way to compete. Traditional sports are not the only sports out there anymore. It’s really making big waves.”
Members of the esports team demonstrated on the gaming stations for those in attendance and even-handed over the gaming controls to Hawkinson.
Talking about his own college days, Hawkinson remembers walking a mile to a shopping center to play Pong, Space Invaders and his favorite, Pac Man.
“I’m just amazed at how far the technology has come and I’m so excited that these students lead the way and passed on their desire to have their own arena and area in which we can support them in their competitions,” he said. “This is the future and if we’re not in front of this, we’re going to be left out.”
The space is available daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for open gaming.