Earlier this year, at the Adirondack Bank Center in Utica, New York, Alpha North Esports and Entertainment hosted the “Battle of the Colleges” esports tournament. Syracuse University’s Rocket League team competed in the tournament and had reached the third-place match….
Get Your Game On In a Virtual Community
When the esports gaming room first opened in the Barnes Center at The Arch, one of the goals was to bring together the increasingly large number of students who loved to play video games but tended to do so in their own rooms. The Barnes Center space created a community for gamers of all skill levels and all backgrounds—athletes, musicians, self-identified “nerds.” They had their pick of the most advanced personal computing (PC) gaming stations, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo, virtual reality units.
And then COVID-19 came along. And the Barnes Center was shut down. And students left campus. But the gaming goes on, perhaps more than ever, creating a new community without walls and hosting virtual esports tournaments and other games to engage students in cyberspace during break time from studies or when their work is done.
“Even though we intentionally launched Syracuse University esports in a physical space at the Barnes Center to bring gamers face-to-face with like-minded students, we were well-prepared to virtually connect those students when they got separated from the campus,” explains Rob Snow, assistant director of esports.
“Our main goals didn’t change even with the pandemic,” says Director of Recreation Matt Hackett. “We continue to position gaming as a positive tool for meeting the recreational, social and educational needs of our students.”
“We are still providing an option for students to come together instead of playing as a solo player,” says Scott Catucci, associate director of outdoor education/esports/student development. “And we are attracting new students to the esports community as we discover and develop innovative games and activities that appeal to a wider audience.”
Snow credits “the most talented student staff” with coming up with content that is increasingly exciting and engaging. “One of the goals of esports has been to reach out into the cyber world with content created by students for students on popular streaming platforms,” he says. “This ‘new normal’ has given us a great opportunity to pursue more video production. Our students are already creating video content for the Division of Enrollment and the Student Experience YouTube Channel and looking to expanding to livestreaming content on other platforms.”
One of the first videos to be developed builds upon the popularity of the game “Overcooked.” The students also plan to develop video content that will “coach” gamers to stay healthy and make good nutritional choices while being confined.
Through the Intramural Esports offerings, Thomas Lail, coordinator of intramural sports, is seeing increased interest from students who may be missing the social benefits of sporting events. “The virtual offerings are allowing students to engage with other Syracuse students whether or not they previously knew each other, providing that opportunity to continue to build both their current friendships and to create new friendships through participation with their favorite games,” Lail says. “That’s why I believe students gravitate to esports and gaming: the relationships that can be built and the fun that can be had, both of which are fundamental to enhancing their experience as a Syracuse student. Esports allows for this connection to be continued virtually.”
With the technology offered, the virtual games can be just as thrilling as the real ones. “I love watching people play Madden and FIFA. The graphic qualities have improved so much over the years, and it all looks so real,” says Snow. “And with professional sports being shut down right now, if you can’t watch a real team, this is an exciting substitute.”
The gaming runs the competitive gamut from Fortnight, League of Legends, FIFA 2.0, Madden, NBA 2K20, NHL 20 and Rocket League to the Quarantine Quiz Show for trivia fans, where students can test their knowledge against students, faculty and staff from universities across the country. Catucci says the staff is coming up with new ways to engage students all the time—even in outdoor activities they may be missing or in exercise opportunities they would have gotten in the Barnes Center. One example is a video geared toward people who loved the climbing wall, with virtual exercises to improve grip strength.
“Our students are engaging in esports with steadily increasing numbers,” says Lail. “They are connecting with students at universities around the country, which is a pretty unique way to show that everybody’s in this together. It doesn’t really matter where you’re at, we are making this shift collectively.”
A variety of resources are available for students interested in learning more or diving right into joining the Barnes Center at The Arch virtual esports community. Not sure gaming is for you? Rookies and return gamers alike are encouraged to explore the Esports Playlist hosted on the Enrollment and the Student Experience YouTube channel. With frequent content updates, students may explore player profiles, game reviews and directions for participating in Barnes Center tournaments.
Customizable for any schedule and most gaming systems, students ready to dive into Barnes Center Esports Tournaments and Intramural play may learn more by visiting the Wellness Portal and selecting “Virtual Esports.”
Have a question, great gaming idea or hoping to see specific esports-related content and events? Students are encouraged to share ideas and make requests by emailing BarnesCenter@syr.edu.