After a long-awaited 19 months, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) celebrated the grand opening of its esports arena on Oct. 8. A ribbon-cutting event marked the official opening to welcome the campus community and to see where esports players hone their gaming skills and compete against varsity-level opponents across the U.S. and Canada.
The state-of-the-art facility is equipped with broadcasting and streaming capabilities and 18 high-end gaming PCs. The grand opening was originally scheduled to take place in March 2020 but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The excitement only grew over those months of waiting, making the grand opening a much-anticipated event.
“I’ve spent a lot of time over the past two years sitting in this room alone, so I can’t put into words how much it means to see everyone here and to have our players finally competing from our arena,” said Esports Director Tim Fowler, as he welcomed everyone to the event. “In a lot of cases, our players met in person for the first time this year, and I’m excited that we finally have a home.”
“When Tim first introduced the idea of an esports arena, we committed ourselves to learn more about this phenomenon,” said Heather Lorenz, VP of Student Affairs. “It became immediately clear to us that we needed a space like this on campus that would provide significant experiential and curricular opportunities, a space for our gaming club students to meet, and a way to connect our online learners with our campus students right here in Manchester.”
It was a joyous occasion filled with gratitude for those who helped make it all possible. Fowler acknowledged faculty who brought esports into the classroom, athletics staff who guided him, and staff in IT for helping to ensure the team has every competitive advantage available via the technology and network.
“I’d also like to thank everyone at our sponsor, Connection, for their generous support,” Fowler said. “Especially Paul Cardinal and Eric Norwalt, because, thanks to them, we were able to try out and implement exactly the technology we needed to outfit the arena.”
One of the first to open in New Hampshire, the SNHU esports arena is located in the William S. and Joan Green Center for Student Success. Varsity teams compete across different game titles in the East Coast Conference, National Esports Collegiate Conference, and many others. The space also has areas for spectators to watch and get in on the action during live productions.
“We wanted it to be a live event space so that we can share our passion for esports with the campus community, and to support students interested in working in the field,” Fowler said. “In addition to our teams, we have 16 student workers in roles ranging from graphic design and social media to team management and lab technicians – so almost everything you see our program put out is produced by our students.”
Much like traditional sports, esports players also have a conference room area, where they scout for recruitment purposes or review footage from previous matches to identify mistakes and find ways to improve upon them. An area is also dedicated for commentators to send communications throughout the arena and offer play-by-play for each of the games. Community players often hang out in the Console Cave, which is equipped with multiple consoles, including PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch.
While some may think esports can exist solely in the digital space, SNHU esports players say having the arena to come together with teammates is a game-changer.
“If we were playing remotely, it would be a lot more separate, and I would not feel as connected to my team, and I wouldn’t feel like I could trust them as much,” said Nicholas Shurtleff, a first-year communication major. “Since I’ve had the opportunity to meet these people in person and talk to other teams, I’ve had a lot more confidence in my game play.”
From the start, Fowler’s mission was to create a space that is open to everyone and could support students not directly involved in the esports program. There are open hours for all students on campus to utilize the equipment in the space six days a week. The esports arena is not open to the general public at this time.
“My hope is also that the gaming club and esports courses on campus can utilize this space for their classes and meetings,” Fowler said. “I’m looking forward to meeting new members of the SNHU community that are interested in competing, playing casually, and watching the games that we all love.”
Siobhan Lopez is a former journalist, who is now the assistant director of media relations at Southern New Hampshire University.