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One of UNC-Chapel Hill’s most exciting destinations — the Carolina Gaming Arena — just got a major tech upgrade, thanks to a partnership with Lenovo.

When the Gaming Arena opened in 2020, UNC worked closely with Lenovo to outfit the arena with cutting edge technology. ITS ResNET, which manages the arena on the ground level of Craige Residence Hall, worked with Lenovo to determine the best time to refresh existing equipment.

So as soon as ResNET closed the Gaming Arena for the Fall semester, ResNET and Lenovo prepped for an exciting delivery. On December 13, the ResNET team accepted new gaming hardware from Lenovo. The team spent the break and early January unboxing and installing 36 new Lenovo Legion T7 gaming desktops and getting the arena ready for the January 17 Spring semester reopening.

Phil Young, Director of ResNET, called the new equipment a “game changer.” He said users can look forward to an elevated gaming experience with faster and more powerful hardware. “The upgraded equipment not only enhances gameplay but also provides opportunities for learning and skill development in the esports field,” he added.

Esports are growing, said Libby Richards, Lenovo Community Engagement Manager. “The level of interest in esports within education continues to grow, with an increasing amount of secondary schools and universities implementing esports programs,” she said. “On top of that, the amount of new careers popping up throughout the industry is substantial, which is extremely exciting for current students.”

ResNET staffers Phil Young and Alex Ho carry a Lenovo Legion box into the Gaming Arena
ResNET staffers Phil Young and Alex Ho are all smiles as they carry the new equipment into the Gaming Arena

Keeps the game going

The Carolina Gaming Arena’s original equipment agreement with Lenovo included an interesting stipulation — that when Lenovo delivered new machines, the outgoing ones would have a second life. So as ResNET staffers unboxed the new gaming desktops, they carefully packaged the previous ones to go to their next home.

UNC and Lenovo presented the machines to the NC Esports Academy as a joint donation on January 17. The NC Esports Academy is a Cary-based “hands-on gaming, esports, STEM and youth development organization” serving K-12 youth. The Academy’s mission is to build character and life skill development through productive video gaming through “hands-on esports and STEM programs for nonprofits, at-risk and/or underprivileged youth.” The space, which opened in 2020, hosts workshops, field trips, camps, tournaments and after-school programs.

This donation is the first from Lenovo or UNC to the NC Esports Academy.

On a cold January day, two NC Esports Academy reps load a truck full of gaming desktops from the arena
The NC Esports Academy picked up the donation from the Carolina Gaming Arena on January 17

“Lenovo is constantly working to contribute to the overarching goal of promoting gaming as a recognized educational activity,” Richards said. “North Carolina Esports Academy and Triangle Esports Alliance work in line with that goal by using esports and STEM education to help build a child’s tech skills and further their character development.”

Young of ResNET is thrilled about the opportunity to pay it forward, calling the donation a testament to the arena’s dedication to community building and collaboration. The donation “reflects the Carolina Gaming Arena’s commitment to fostering growth within the esports community,” he said. “By extending our support to North Carolina Esports Academy, we aim to contribute to the broader mission of advancing gaming as a recognized and respected activity.”

And the community building may not stop there. “I think it’s highly likely that some of the participants [of the NC Esports Academy] end up at Carolina someday, and that’s a huge motivational point for us to do this,” Young said.

About the Carolina Gaming Arena

In 2019, ITS ResNET began a major undertaking to build the Carolina Gaming Arena, a state-of-the-art esports facility at UNC. The space officially opened in Fall 2021 after the initial March 2020 grand opening was postponed due to COVID-19 and the shift to remote instruction.

The arena is open to anyone with an active Onyen — including faculty and staff. Young said that it’s a common misconception that the space is limited to just those who live in residence halls.

The space has 36 gaming desktops, three gaming consoles, room for spectators and multiple spaces to game. This summer, the Gaming Arena upgraded its nine-panel casting wall to an ultra-short-throw projector for lower latency and a better gaming experience. The team reused the panels for additional displays inside the Gaming Arena and in the Craige podcasting studio.

ResNET staffers unbox a gaming desktop from a stack of boxes
Unboxing the new Lenovo machines

Lenovo partnership “aligns perfectly”

Lenovo has been an excellent partner to the Gaming Arena, and to Carolina. Lenovo has been a key technology partner at UNC-Chapel Hill since the Carolina Computing Initiative was launched more than 20 years ago. The partnership not only offers UNC students great pricing and support, including loaner laptops on CCI computers they buy, but also enables research grants through the CFE/Lenovo Instructional Innovation Grant program and strengthens the Carolina Covenant program through laptop donations.

The partnership with the Gaming Arena came about because Lenovo and UNC already had a great relationship. “Lenovo’s reputation for cutting edge equipment aligns perfectly with our goal of providing the best gaming experience to our community,” Young said.

Alex Ho sets up a new Legion desktop on a desk directly underneath the Carolina Gaming Arena logo
Alex Ho, Digital Services and Gaming Arena Coordinator, sets up a new gaming desktop

For the Gaming Arena, the partnership has obvious benefits. “We have cutting edge technologies and direct link to a Lenovo team to support us,” Young said. “The students have access to equipment that they may not otherwise have access to and a place to share that with friends or make new connections.”

Investing in these types of relationships isn’t just about technology, said Wendy Welch, Lenovo Public Sector Executive Director. “It’s about nurturing the next generation of innovators. These partnerships are the bridges that connect our present to a future where collaboration, learning and gaming converge,” she said.

To Young and members of the ResNET team, the Gaming Arena is more than just a space for gaming. “It’s a community that thrives on innovation and collaboration,” he said. “We look to increase the knowledge around the esports community and introduce it to new people. Lenovo has been a huge part of that with the support they have given us. We want to make sure people know that.”


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