The esports room in the Barnes Center at The Arch epitomizes ingenuity. The space itself, housed in a recreation center, is oxymoronic to some, given that it isn’t a traditional sport. Yet esports is a worldwide phenomenon, and according to Forbes is a billion-dollar industry watched by more than 433 million people every year. Esports, like any sport, provides opportunities for people to strengthen camaraderie, learn skills, find belonging and pursue a passion.
Esports for All
The recreational esports program at Syracuse University doesn’t align with other institutions, which typically have varsity esports teams. The fact that any person—of any skill level or ability—can come and play in the room is atypical. But that’s the idea.
It isn’t just about gaming. It’s bringing gaming to a whole new level.
Students of all types play in the esports room, whether on their own, with a group of friends, as a member of the Esports Club or as a professional-level independent player. Regardless, they have access to the professional-grade equipment, which includes 36 PC stations with the highest technical specs a room such as this has seen. The computers are four times faster than most gamer computers, which gives a competitive edge to Syracuse students. There are six console stations in the room that include Xbox One X, PlayStation 4 Pro and Nintendo Switch at each location. There is also a virtual reality headset and capabilities for students to broadcast games. At the forefront of the facility’s design is accessibility, and adaptive equipment is available.
“There have always been huge gaming communities at the University, and they have always been underserved. When you like basketball, you go to the basketball courts. Gamers never had that option,” says Rob Snow, assistant director of esports. “The esports room is a way for the University to reach out and engage students who haven’t been engaged in the past and give them a better student experience.”
By establishing a space on campus for esports players and audiences to come together, Syracuse University is fostering a community that couldn’t flourish before. Griffin Conner ’21 founded the Esports Club on campus as a first-year student. With support from Chris Hanson , associate professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences, Conner created an executive board and established the club, which started as just four members. One year later, there were over 100 members. Now, three years later, the Esports at Syracuse University Discord channel has over 600 members.
“As more people get involved, we’re creating a community where you can find people like you,” says Lauren Wiener ’20, current Esports Club president and a founding member. “The esports room, in particular, is allowing space for people to continue to do that. Together, we can create a unique program that grows the University, the students and esports interest. All we have to do is keep going.”
“It isn’t just about gaming. It’s bringing gaming to a whole new level,” says Snow, a veteran artilleryman in the Army who draws on his experiences in the military to ensure students are growing. “I can’t coach the game. I can only coach the person. Most of these students are getting game expertise elsewhere, but they still have opportunity to grow in teamwork, communication and leadership skills. The esports room and my position allow me to develop students and bring them together as a community or team.”
Developing Through Esports
As the esports industry grows significantly every year, gaming is no longer a hobby for many. Esports careers are on the rise; students can find jobs on the marketing, public relations, sports management, game design, broadcasting or athletic side of the industry.
This past academic year, Hanson teamed up with Olivia Stomski , director of the Newhouse Sports Media Center and professor of practice in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, to offer a new Esports and Media class. There was an overwhelming response from students who wanted to take the class and alumni or other industry experts wanting to help with the course, many even flying themselves to Syracuse to meet with the class. The future of esports in the curriculum is promising, and it spans across all colleges and universities.
“For the last seven or eight years, I have taught courses with various esports elements in them,” says Hanson. “This class that I coteach with Olivia is paving the way forward for esports at the University. By combining our areas of expertise, we have given the students a holistic experience and view of the esports industry.”
“Esports is interdisciplinary in nature and embodies the spirit of ‘One University,’” says Stomski. “One of the great things about esports is how inclusive it is. We are honoring this inclusivity in esports through this class by drawing enrollment from all disciplines. Having a space on campus in the Barnes Center where we can all explore these educational concepts is transformational for the future of research and curriculum at Syracuse University.”