Esports construction project aims for change in culture and community
Swanson Hall corridor will be transformed into new home of UND Esports
Work will soon get underway on the lower level of Swanson Hall, which, when complete, will be the new home of UND’s North Dakota Varsity Esports team.
The corridor links Swanson Hall with the Memorial Union. It is home to a series of conference rooms and is the former location of the construction office used by staff and crew members during the Memorial Union’s construction. Those rooms, actually one large room divisible by accordion-type doors, will be repurposed, remodeled and repainted to create a permanent home for the esports team.
When construction is completed those accordion doors will be gone, and new walls put in place to separate the location into multiple spaces for the team. Travis Isbell, director of the esports program, said the construction project will completely transform the space where the team will train and compete.
“At a lot of colleges building an esports space, they throw 40 computers in a room and slap some paint on it and maybe do some colorful lighting and call it done,” said Isbell. “We’re trying to say no, esports is important to us. We really appreciate how much passion students have for this — so let’s do it right, and let’s make it something that you can get behind and be proud of.”
At present, the esports team competes in the equipment-filled Nexus, at the UND Wellness Center. Team members also have additional space in the Hyslop Sports Center for practices and team training. Nominally, the Nexus can be used by all UND students who want to play video games on their own, but completing the location in the Swanson Hall corridor will bring the team under one roof, and free up the Nexus for recreational use by other students.
The esports space will be divided into a classroom — a place for athletes to learn and practice, which will also double as a place for visiting teams to compete — and a separate competition space for UND athletes. Rooms along the hallway will be enclosed by a stylized glass wall to give passersby a glimpse into the team’s activities, and Varsity Esports branding will adorn the interior walls.
A vending corner will be revamped into a “dry locker room” where athletes can store their gear and grab a drink before heading out to compete. Afterward, athletes can unwind in a lounge space, rehashing the day’s practice or decompressing after a tournament. Isbell says he’ll hang out there during tournaments so he can watch the team’s progress — from a distance.
“Just like in traditional sports, there has to be that separation between players and the coach,” he said, adding: “The coach isn’t in the huddle.”
Eric Link, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said through recreational activities, academic programming and the varsity esports team, UND is working to make esports opportunities available to students and the larger community across Grand Forks, North Dakota and the Northern Plains.
“The construction of this new, state-of-the-art varsity competition space will be an outstanding addition to campus and to the community,” Link said. “It will provide a unique arena for not only UND’s competitive esports athletes, but also a variety of community engagement opportunities and student learning experiences that rival the very best in the nation. And we’ll be doing this right here in Grand Forks, N.D.”
Isbell and Esports Coach Ryan Kraus said they look forward to creating a sense of community for esports players in the region. That means there will be opportunities for local high school students — there are 14 high schools in the region with an esports program, Isbell said — to drop by, take in the culture of the team, and potentially get in front of a recruiter. It also means opportunities for new students and team members to receive mentorship doing something they love.
And it means a gathering space for social events. Kraus said he has heard from numerous students that they don’t have the space to watch professional esports tournaments with friends and classmates. When the project is completed, they can find that gathering space on campus.
And having the Varsity Esports Team in one centralized and remodeled location — Isbell’s and Kraus’s offices are right across the hall — will mean a culture change for the team, an identity as collegiate athletes.
“It will definitely be a culture switch,” Kraus said. “We’re trying to make it more serious, more competitive in nature.”
Brian Larson, director of construction management, said one goal of the project is to make the Swanson Hall corridor an extension of the Memorial Union, including its color scheme, branding and light-colored wood finishes. The door connecting the corridor to the Memorial Union will also be enlarged, for ease of access and a more open, welcoming feeling for those passing through.
Larson said bids for the construction project have been received and are now under review. The project is being designed by Grand Forks-based ICON Architectural Group.
And once the esports facility is complete? “You’ll never forget where you are,” said Larson.