ITS ResNET is collaborating with more than a dozen campus organizations to bring a state-of-the-art gaming arena to Craige Hall this fall.
Carolina Gaming Arena will provide students with high-end gaming equipment — from PC stations and gaming consoles to virtual reality and augmented reality equipment. The accessibility of gaming will enable students to compete with each other from their own devices or those available at the arena. The space will cater to both experienced and novice gamers.
“We believe we can bring everyone into this community,” said Lee Hyde, Program Director at ResNET.
Assistant Program Director Christina Riegel added, “We’re really excited to be able to have a space that opens up gaming for students and Carolina. We want to create a space where all feel welcome to come play, participate in events, and build community together.”
Collaborating with campus organizations
Working in conjunction with Carolina Housing and the Esports Club, Hyde and the ResNET team helped design the interior of the gaming space — from choosing the color scheme, picking out fabrics and even laser cutting décor. Those aren’t usual tasks for the ITS unit.
“ResNET is encouraged by Carolina Housing to be creative and daring in how we offer services to our students,” Hyde said. “This is just another example of how we try to push the envelope on what is expected.”
Director of Carolina Housing Allan Blattner said the idea for the gaming arena grew out of ResNET’s attention to trends and feedback from students. “In our efforts to retain students on-campus,” Blattner said, “we need to provide amenities that are attractive to students and that highlight our connection to Carolina’s academic mission.”
The Esports Club began working with ResNET in March 2018 to set up dorm tours across campus to provide spaces and setups for people to game. In 2019, ResNET began working with the club on a concept for a gaming arena based on the interest they found among students and faculty.
“Our role in working with ResNET has mainly been an advisory position, but it has been great to see the input we have to offer being taken to heart and implemented into the plans for the space,” said Davis Martin, president of the Esports Club. “They’ve provided us with a huge stepping stone to not only reach more people but also support our community with more and better equipment.”
A dedicated space for gaming
Prior to working with ResNET, the Esports Club, which has more than 1,500 members, met in Sitterson Hall for gaming events. The Carolina Gaming Arena will finally give the club a dedicated space for gaming activities. In May 2019, the section of Craige Hall basement where the arena will be located was gutted of all existing features and is being outfitted with electrical and cooling infrastructure. Hyde hopes to launch the arena in late September.
“Our team has been understaffed for the entire time that we’ve been working on this project,” said Hyde, “so we’re really proud of the progress we’ve made from taking a small request from a few students to opening up a new center and building an initiative behind it.”
Riegel added, “Our Residential Computing Consultant staff have been instrumental in helping us get as far as we have, and we hope this space gives them exciting work opportunities as we prepare for opening and after.”
The 1,800-square-foot space will have 38 dedicated PC stations along with additional seating to accommodate 60 spectators. Once open, plans are to have the arena operate daily from 8 a.m. to midnight for campus residents and available to the public Monday to Friday from 3 to 9 p.m. Students will be able to reserve PC stations for up to three hours. The arena will also host regular tournaments as well as team training sessions with an option for the general public to join in and learn how to play competitively.
In the past, the Esports Club had to hold separate events for each game due to the group’s equipment and space needs. But now, the gaming arena “will offer an area for everyone to come together as a single community,” Martin said.
A growing trend among universities
While new to this campus, gaming arenas are beginning to pop up at universities across the country. At the University of California, Irvine, the UCI Esports program, which started in 2016, boasts an unprecedented state-of-the-art gaming arena and a varsity gaming team. The University of Washington also recently launched its own 1,000-square-foot esports arena and gaming lounge.
Although some critics of video gaming contend that the activity could be detrimental for one’s health, Hyde explained that the sport actually enables students to socialize, improve hand-eye coordination and learn complex skills and tasks.
“Overall, we’re most excited about the recognition of the growing popularity of collegiate gaming and the ability to bring our community together,” Martin said. “We see this growing even more as people see the interest that people have in it as well as the skill that is required to play at a high level, just like any competitive sport. The future has a lot of promise and we hope to see UNC rise among the universities supporting esports as a whole.”