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Since the 1970s, esports have existed as a means of proving a gamer’s ability to perform better than others within an in-game setting. However, over the past few decades, esports has skyrocketed into the mainstream and grown into a billion-dollar industry. Esports is a form of organized competitive online gaming between individual players and teams. Streamed from online platforms such as Twitch to cable networks such as ESPN, competitive gaming has risen to generate millions of viewers per match.
Students like Philip Chvosta were drawn into the realm of esports by viewing these broadcasts. Chvosta, a second year Aerospace engineering student, became interested in esports after catching the debut match of the Overwatch League. In a video interview, Chvosta says it “got me really interested in esports, not necessarily as a career but just as, you know, this hobby I like and am interested in the highest level of possible play in a lot of the videogames I play.”
Across the United States, esports teams have increased over the last few decades. As of 2023, over 600 American colleges and universities have developed active esports teams that compete against each other on a national scale. NC State’s Esports Club has been a part of this expansion. So far, the club has drawn in hundreds of members since its creation, Chvosta being one of them.
Originally formed in 2018 as a merger between several pre-existing organizations on campus, the NC State Esports Club has drawn in students who desire to engage in the growing realm of esports. Now, five years after its creation, the club has more than 200 members and over 2,000 people within its Discord server. Anyone can join the club, participate in “pick-up” games or stay for a sense of community. Those who seek to play competitively must try-out for a spot on one of the many club teams. The club has eight total competitive teams, each focused on a variety of different games including Fortnite, Overwatch, League of Legends and Valorant.
The prowess of NC State’s sports teams extends beyond traditional sports, and into the realm of esports as well. A notable achievement comes from NC State’s Rainbow Six Siege team, holding the first title of first in the nation as of 2022. This accomplishment is particularly noteworthy considering being stacked against fierce competition nationwide.
Chvosta, now a member of one of the Esports Club’s competitive Overwatch teams, landed his spot on the team recently. He reflected on his journey into the realm of esports with Nubian Message, telling us, “The Overwatch team was having tryouts when I joined and I decided to put my name in the hat. I actually just barely made it in and ever since then I’ve been playing on the team.”
Chvosta says “The process of doing anything competitive, the moment you dive in you’re either going to fall in love with it or you’re going to hate it and never want to touch it again…the hardest part is pretty much always going to be taking that first step, playing that first game, going to that first tryout. And then when you make that decision if you really like it or if you hate it and never want to touch it again, it’ll be easier to make that choice.”
The Esports Club’s events are broadcasted live on streaming platforms and have stacked up hundreds of views on YouTube. The growth of the Esports Club has garnered the attention of the university, prompting an expansion of its support for the esports program.
In the next year, a collective gaming space known as the NC State Gaming and Esports Lab is scheduled to open on the fourth floor of Hunt Library. The lab will be home to over 35 gaming computers and four console stations open to NC State students, faculty and staff. The lab will enable users to research and learn more about esports, while also, “refining design ideas and building momentum” for the NC State Esports Arena, according to NC State Engineering Communications. Chvosta said, “It’s going to be important for the communities to show up in these spaces…seeing how that physical aspect can be integrated into the community is the most important part.” He said that the in-person aspect of collective gaming will be a notable upgrade compared to the online-centric gaming alternative.
Another major esports investment will be the NC State Esports Arena, expected to open in Mann Hall in 2026. It is anticipated to be one of the largest collegiate esports arenas in America. The arena will be funded by $12 million of a $16 million grant from the North Carolina General Assembly. This investment will make the arena one of the most expensive esports facilities in the nation. The arena is envisioned to be a functional facility for both faculty and students, open to be used for competition and rented out among other uses. It is aimed to provide hands-on learning opportunities in computer science and game design for students, even those outside of esports and gaming communities. There will also be an additional fund to help levy tournament production costs such as audio. The remaining $4 million from the $16 million dollar grant will be aimed to build a ‘mobile arena’ which will travel around the state to make competitive gaming mobile on a short term basis.
Chvosta, echoing the sentiments of the esports community, says, “Everyone is incredibly excited for the sports arena.” As the arena’s opening approaches, there is a tangible sense of anticipation among students, faculty and esports enthusiasts alike.
Both revolutionary arenas, the stationary arena and the mobile arena will be aimed at cultivating esports-related development recreationally and academically for students and faculty of North Carolina State University.
NC State’s ambitions extend beyond campus boundaries as it has been looking to partner with gaming and computer companies in the region Arnav Jhala, Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science and advisor for the Esports Club says that the area will enable interaction between local industry partners and will encourage professional development opportunities and job creation within the esports and gaming industry.
One of the primary academic aims for the esports arena will be developing curriculums for existing gaming-related courses within the College of Design, College of Engineering and College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Jhala says that the arena will also aid in creating opportunities for social sciences research based on the community dynamics and questions regarding diversity and inclusion within gaming communities. Jhala says that there will be additional opportunities for research in certain user interactions with computer systems.
NC State’s embracement of esports reflects a larger trend in academia. Academic institutions are increasingly recognizing gaming as a legitimate field of study, research and industrial collaboration. NC State’s recognition of esports extends past acknowledgment and into active engagement. Institutions are becoming more proactive in the landscape of competitive gaming. The future of collegiate esports looks promising as universities are actively positioning themselves at the forefront of the rapidly evolving craft.