Gamers at Illinois Wesleyan University have a new space to practice and compete with the opening of a new, 5,700-square-foot esports facility.
IWU's esports program started in 2018 with a dozen team members, all playing League of Legends. This year, the team has 40 students competing across five games—League of Legends, Fortnite, Overwatch, Rocket League, and Super Smash Bros.
Director of Esports Callum Fletcher said with the program growing exponentially, it was time for a move out of its old space in the university's Hansen Student Center.
"It really does create an environment where they can come in and be successful from start to finish," Fletcher said. "We have competitive space upstairs, we have a casual gamer space downstairs, we've got a competition room ... But we also have things like studios where students can come in and learn production, they can learn broadcast and commentary."
The new facility hosts 54 gaming computers—more than double in the old space. It's also home to the HyperX Broadcast Studio, a conference room for meeting and analyzing film and offices for coaches and student workers.
Fletcher said the facility reflects the growing prominence of competitive gaming.
"As the industry continues to grow, the opportunities are going to continue to grow—in terms of employment, in terms of professional careers, in terms of viewership and spectatorship," Fletcher said. "And so in the collegiate space, it makes total sense, right? Colleges have to go where students are."
Fletcher said esports are one of the lucky leagues not to get derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the infrastructure of gaming already allows students to stay socially distanced and still compete with others from around the country.
He said safety measures are strict in the new facility, as well.
"No food or drink in the facility at all. If you want to drink your water bottle, you've got to take it outside. Masks must be worn 24/7 inside the facility. We have Plexiglas between every single computer. We have storage bins at every single computer where students are required to put their equipment in before and after each use, so that it doesn't get cross contaminated from just people being near it."
For now, the new esports center is restricted to team members, Fletcher said. But the goal is to one day open it to all students interested in gaming, as well as family and friends who want to watch the teams compete.
"I've always thought esports should be a more social experience," he said. "We recognize that's why people play games in the first place outside of competition."
Fletcher said that could even mean holding tailgates, just like other collegiate sports.
The new facility was unveiled Friday on Twitch, a live streaming platform for gamers.
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