Sports are synonymous with America, and when you think of sports the first thing that may come to mind is football or baseball. But a new sport is growing in America — Esports — and Western is planning to use $500,000 dollars to turn the Little Theater into a brand new Esports Arena.
Competitive gaming has become one of the world’s hottest industries with televised tournaments and competitions held all over the globe. According to newzoo.com, an Esport analytics website. Esports revenue reached $700 million last year and is expected to reach over a billion dollars by 2020.
University president Edward Montgomery’s initiative fund has provided the funding for the Esport structure and project manager Scott Puckett is one of the brains behind the project.
“What we’re looking for is a community to build for our students so that’s kind of goal number one," said Puckett.
"We want to be able to have a spot for students to get together and use the facility whether its club sport or creating another RSO or intramural."
An RSO is a resident student organization. Western already has one dedicated to Esport game League of Legends which combines a mixture of fantasy and strategy. Chapter president William Garetto Balmer thinks the Esport facility will bring a new atmosphere to Western’s gaming community.
“So many people at Western play video games and it would just give us all a spot to go and compete using stuff that we’re not...that we don’t have access to. Like my current computer right now isn’t working so I can’t do anything and I have to get it fixed before I can compete. So now if I was able to go there I could play right now," said Balmer.
Despite Esports growth, not everyone is thrilled with the facility. Community members have taken to Facebook and Reddit calling the facility a waste of money and questioning its purpose. But with the growth of Esports in the U.S., project team member Michael Sisk thinks the center will justify itself in time:
“Now was a good time to get in on it and I think maybe the president and his cabinet recognize that as far as we’re not early adopters necessarily we’re not the first ones to do this but its also early enough that we can say oh well we’re one of the first and there’s a lot to look at there. Especially long term as far as like branding and attracting students to the university as far a like hey ya know maybe we’re one of only five universities in Michigan that has an Esports team."
Western Alumni and Esports fan Robert Paul thinks the facility will help eliminate some of the stigma about gaming:
“Often times video games are associated with lonerism and being locked away in one’s room and spending hours and hours and hours by yourself. But its really not like that honestly cause often times the people who do put in a lot of time in video games are hanging out with someone its just they’re on Skype or Discord. They’re talking to a friend through the computer."
Student reaction to the project has also been a bit of a mixed bag. But League of Legends player Nick James says he has high expectations for the venue.
“I want to see the ability to hold tournaments," said James.
"And I want other people to be able to watch. Like even if its just five or ten people that’s more than we have right now. I want to be able to create something with the rest of the league community here in Kalamazoo. That would be cool."
Current plans for the project will include 22 work stations to let students compete and build skill at the club level. The intent is for the space to be open to many different competitive Esport events and the facility is meant to allow for the development of academic programing. The Western Esport gaming center is expected to be open this fall.