Southeast Missouri State University senior Brenden Leahy says his passion for video gaming — particularly Counter-Strike: Global Offensive — has placed him at the center of an eSports initiative gaining rapid momentum on the Southeast campus.
Leahy and other Southeast gamers say they are excited about a plan to develop an eSports venue in the Towers Complex that is expected to attract both recreational and competitive Southeast players when it opens for the start of the fall 2019 semester. The new eSports venue will be located in the space currently occupied by the Towers Computer Lab on the main floor of the Towers Complex.
The 1,500-square-foot space will feature 12 personal computers — two facing banks of six personal computers each — in a setup designed for competitive fantasy-type gaming. Video gaming also will be available in another corner of the space with Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo consoles. A 70-inch wall-mounted television will provide a birds-eye view of live games being played in real-time in the space. The venue will include gaming furniture for others to watch games in progress. Nip Kelly Construction is the contractor for the project.
Southeast officials say the eSports venue, under the auspices of Recreation Services, will be a 24/7 operational space offering after hours and late night/early morning access. Because Southeast’s Residence Life office is across the hallway, Residence Life staff can assist when needed. The location also is along the current route for Admissions campus tours, making the space easily shown to prospective students.
Leahy, a member of Southeast’s eSports Club and who also assists with eSports intramurals as a Recreation Services student employee, calls the space a “perfect location” in a high trafficked student area. Dining options are nearby, and the venue’s glass front allows passersby to readily watch the fun and competition.
As a result of the new eSports venue, the Towers Computer Lab will move down the hall to Towers 110.
Dr. Bruce Skinner, associate vice president for student life, says students will be able to schedule the space through Recreation Sports for competitive and club sports events.
“This is of interest to our students” and relatively easy to implement, he said, adding the space is being collaboratively funded by Student Government, Campus Life and Recreation Services using funds allocated for co-curricular and student life activities.
“We are going to help students compete who want to be competitive,” he said. “And those who don’t want to be competitive will find a connection with others. That is so important.”
Leahy, who grew up on video games after first watching his brother play Donkey Kong 64, said Southeast’s eSports venue will be a place to gel with like-minded students.
It “provides a community for me and fellow fans to join in,” he said. “I’m not the most social person by any stretch, but when I find out that people in my degree path, or just other individuals on campus, have an interest in eSports, I suddenly have a genuine connection with them. We can talk about our games of choice, favorite moments if we watch the same game, and stuff like that. I think providing a place for us all to meet up and play games, watch tournaments, or otherwise chat, will be a beautiful option to have on campus.”
eSports is an emerging industry that has aggressively moved into the college environment, said Mike Buck, director of Recreation Services. Last fall, Southeast’s Recreation Services began developing an eSports competitive club and incorporating eSports into the intramural program. In February, Recreation Services hosted an informational eSports Club meeting, and 13 students and a staff member attended. That led to the creation of a Southeast eSports Club which now boasts 60 full members and the development of eSports intramurals.
In addition, Recreation Services staff recently attending an eSports conference at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, followed by Southeast sending three students to St. Louis to compete March 1 in the ESPN101 FIFA Soccer tournament in St. Louis.
Eric Redinger, associate director of Recreation Services, said ESPN101 extensively covered the event, and one participating Southeast student was interviewed on Twitch for about 10 minutes, with the piece receiving almost 3,000 viewers in real time.
Alex Pueschel, a junior finance major from O’Fallon, Missouri, was a member of the team that participated in the ESPN101 FIFA Soccer Tournament. He says he’s been playing video games since he was in second grade and is excited about having an eSports Club team at Southeast that he says will serve as a recruitment tool for attracting prospective students.
“It’s very fun to be part of,” he said, adding that an established venue to play “is very visually appealing and makes getting together and practicing much simpler.”
The sky’s the limit for the potential of eSports which is an explosive industry.
“I think eSports will very soon be on the scale of baseball and hockey, and eventually grow to something like basketball and even football,” said Leahy, a fourth-year student from Auburn, Illinois, studying technology management, telecommunications and computer networking option, with a minor in computer science.
Leahy added, “Forbes (magazine) published an article last year saying that eSports is the new college football. While I don’t think it’s there just yet, it is inevitable.”
He said this year’s Super Bowl attracted just under 100 million viewers. By comparison, the League of Legends 2018 Mid-season Invitational pulled in 60 million unique viewers for the finals alone. Over the 12-day event, viewers watched 363 million hours of League of Legends, and at its peak, just under 20 million people were watching at one time.
“Those are insane numbers, especially when you consider that eSports is still rapidly growing,” he said. “I love eSports so much and cannot wait for it to be as mainstream as professional sports and see where that takes the medium.”