FREMONT — Midland University, the first college in the region to elevate video gaming to a varsity-level competition alongside traditional sports, unveiled a new eSports arena Wednesday.
Located on the third floor of Midland's Olson Student Center, the eSports arena was specially designed for competitive gaming.
Warrior eSports team members are able to compete on an elevated level, allowing spectators to view the action from below. LED lighting that can be adjusted for optimum viewing of screens has been installed in the three-tier tray ceiling. The arena also features a "smart board," which head coach Ben Nabity can use to map out strategy, the university says.
Overall, the arena has 20 workstations, including 10 with dual monitors so team members can follow the action of more than one competition at a time. Each workstation comes equipped with ergonomically-designed Arozzi gaming chairs, headphones and other gear.
Midland recently began its second eSports season, competing this year in “League of Legends,” “Overwatch” and “Hearthstone.” There are 21 students on the Warriors eSports roster.
One of the fastest-growing collegiate team activities, eSports has been gaining popularity since Midland first introduced it as a varsity-level team in 2016. At the time, Midland was one of five colleges across the country to offer athletic scholarships to participants. That number is expected to reach 60 by the end of the year.
Students put hours of practice into mastering their craft. And hardcore gamers can be injured, too: suffering carpal tunnel syndrome, or tilting (entering a state of mental confusion and frustration).
“The games that we play and the games that are chosen and selected for eSports are games that require team play, team coordination, team communication and team discipline,” Nabity said. “And you have to practice all those things in order to be good. And when you are a competitor in any sports, these are things you do with your team.
“I know there is this physical boundary that people have trouble getting by, but in these video games, there is this huge mental handicap that you have to get through in order to play these games competitively, and stay competitive, because it really does take an emotional toll on people.”
Nabity said recruiting for eSports can be a bit tricky. Much of the time he visits high schools and learns about their gaming clubs, and who some of the top-tier gamers are within the program.
“Every single player that plays one of these games online has statistics that are online, so I can see those stats, so that’s important first and foremost,” Nabity said. “And then I will have them come in and I will have them play with some of my players, and have them (his players) analyze what their decision-making is like, how emotional they are during the game, and other stuff like that.”
In the second year of competition, there is still a bit of a learning curve for everybody involved, but eSports is gaining notoriety and respect, and with a new eSports arena, the team has a place to call its own.
Nabity and his players say they're excited to share what eSports is all about.
“It’s a huge milestone for Midland University and for eSports as a whole to be able to bring people from this community to the lab and show them that this is real,” he said. “And so being a part of that is just really fantastic.”