January 15, 2018

Miami University Library Hosts Esports Arena

Miami University Esports Arena at the King LibraryThe King Library at Miami University (MU), OH, recently debuted a state-of-the-art esports arena prominently located on the library’s first floor. Developed in partnership with the university’s Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies (AIMS) and IT services department, the new facility is home to the Miami Redhawks esports program, which attained varsity status in 2016. It features 16 gaming stations, along with two large-screen TVs for viewing in-progress games and reviewing recordings of prior competitions.

MU offers a highly-ranked game design program, which involves interdisciplinary collaboration between AIMS, the departments of art, English, computer science and software engineering, teacher education, and the University Libraries, which host the computer labs outfitted for the program’s courses. So, when AIMS approached the library about hosting the new varsity team, Jerome Conley, dean of University Libraries, welcomed the opportunity to work with a long-term partner.

“We’ve been involved and engaged with [AIMS] since its inception…and we felt that providing resources for the game design program was just another iteration of the library’s role,” Conley told LJ. Just as the library would purchase books and other materials needed for the study of architecture or engineering, for example, the library has been providing games, software, and equipment needed by students enrolled in game design courses, he explained. “When they approached us about the esports arena, we felt that it was another extension of the gaming program. How could we use the esports arena as a laboratory for this emerging and evolving sport?”

Although it may have escaped the notice of older generations, esports are becoming a major trend, expected to generate $1.5 billion in annual economic activity by 2020. While this growth has been driven primarily by recurring tournaments—including collegiate tournaments featuring college esports clubs—new organized competition models are beginning to emerge.

Notable recent developments include the formation of the Overwatch League in 2017. Modeled after traditional sports leagues, it will feature 12 teams of salaried, professional players competing against one another through a six-month regular season, beginning in January 2018 and culminating in a championship series in July—but in this case playing Blizzard Entertainment’s popular first-person shooter Overwatch. The founding teams are based in cities including London, New York, Los Angeles, Seoul, and Shanghai in an effort to cultivate regional fan bases. Several early investors in the league have roots in traditional pro sports, also owning teams such as the New England Patriots, Los Angeles Rams, New York Mets, Denver Nuggets, and Philadelphia Flyers. Separately, Take-Two Interactive Software, a major game publisher, has partnered with the National Basketball Association to launch the NBA 2K League, with 17 teams beginning a season of competition in May 2018.

Miami University Esports Arena at King Library“Esports are really on the steep slope of the growth curve right now,” said Glenn Platt, AIMS director and professor of Network Technology and Management for MU. “Among college students, esports very recently crossed over the point at which students spend more hours watching esports than traditional sports…including baseball, basketball, or football…. This is their generation’s sport.”

Colleges and universities are taking note. Official esports clubs, teams, and tournaments have existed on campuses for years, but the shift to varsity status is new. During the past 18 months, a network of almost 50 collegiate varsity programs have launched and joined the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), a nonprofit membership association formed in July 2016 to lay the groundwork for standards such as student and institutional eligibility, path to graduation, competition, and scholarships.

Many of these schools have built dedicated spaces/arenas for their teams, but typically, these facilities have been placed in student centers or similar locations. The Miami Redhawks are believed to be the first program launched in partnership with a university library.

Platt noted that the library “has been supporting [AIMS’s] academic program from day one. And one of the things that’s unique about Miami University’s approach to esports is that we have dovetailed it with our academic mission…. We have a world-class academic game [design] program, and those classes have always been anchored in the library.”

For any libraries considering a similar partnership, Platt noted that designing the arena required “more than just throwing a bunch of gaming computers in a room. You start with [heating, ventilation, and air conditioning]. Do you have appropriate cooling? You’ll have a lot of hot-running computers, so you need the HVAC to be right. And you need to be as close to [the university’s network] backbone as you can get, or at least have gigabit connections, because in these games, milliseconds make a difference. So you want to reduce any latency, network-wise. The library has the biggest ‘pipe’ going to it, of all of our pipes on campus, so that’s another reason the location made sense as well.”

The new arena is soundproofed to avoid disturbing other students using the library. It has already become a popular stop on campus tours, although the area rarely becomes crowded, since fans who want to check out the team’s matches usually watch online on Twitch.tv. About 20,000 viewers tuned in to one match last semester, Platt said. Earlier this month, the Miami Redhawks won NACE’s first ever Overwatch Season tournament, besting the Georgia Southern University Eagles 3–1 in the title match.

Reception by students and staff “has been surprisingly positive,” Platt said. “We still fight an external battle in getting people to understand that this is a sport. But within the institution, the students are incredibly jazzed about it. Whenever we compete, they’re watching or retweeting our records, or writing about it in the school newspaper.”

Conley added that many library staff weren’t initially familiar with esports, but “they’ve gotten up to speed. And our systems staff has really been excited to be engaged and involved with the program…. Libraries have always been the glue that brings people from various disciplines together, and as this emerging field [becomes established], we’re really proud that the library is sitting at the table and playing a prominent role.”

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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