Esports levels up with state-of-the-art facility
UND Varsity Esports team members now have permanent home in Swanson Hall
After a celebratory event and ribbon cutting ceremony, the Varsity Esports Team officially has a home on the UND campus.
That home is located in Swanson Hall, and UND students, Varsity Esports athletes, administrators and the workers who completed the space gathered on the Social Stairs in the Memorial Union to celebrate the event, on Friday, March 31. Peering down from the railings that surround the stairs were dozens more, looking for a bird’s-eye view of the event, which was kicked off by UND President Andrew Armacost. Tours of the new facility then continued throughout the afternoon and evening.
Armacost said that having a space where the Esports athletes can gather has emotional and morale benefits which will help shape the identity of the team.
“To have a space that they can call home, that they can compete in, and they can practice and be together in; there’s nothing like that,” said Armacost. “I’m just thrilled to be able to see what we’ve done, what the team has done, and congratulations to all who made it happen.”
The esports facility is conveniently located in the hallway at the base of the Social Stairs. The hallway connects the Memorial Union to Swanson Hall.
Following Armacost was Sandra Moritz, professor of education, health & behavior, who oversees the Esports academic degree program. She spoke about the genesis of the program, and how its design focuses on career opportunities for graduates.
Students can take different pathways through the degree program, such as a performing, coaching and health track, or a business track, among others. Students can also avail themselves of an internship component to the degree, making use of established partnerships around the program. Moritz said she is looking forward to watching the Esports degree and ecosystem grow at UND.
“We anticipate it’s going to evolve and it’s going to become something even better than what we have,” she said. “We’re really happy with the partnerships that we have across the different colleges and universities in the state of North Dakota.”
Provost Eric Link, a strong supporter of esports at UND since its inception, likened the campus ecosystem to a three-legged-stool. Those legs are recreational gaming in the Nexus, recreational gaming in the student Wellness Center and Varsity Esports, alongside the academic degree program.
Link drew a few shouts of approval when he said that he is also a gamer (his game was Halo 2 and he and his brother paired together for online games) and apologized to his many vanquished opponents. He then thanked everyone for working on the space, from the designers to all the electricians and plumbers who made those designs a reality.
Link said creating an Esports academic program and competitive team means more than just participating in the multi-billion-dollar-a-year esports market. It’s about the students, and the opportunities they have for teamwork, leadership and community building.
“We are so glad that we have this new facility for this to be possible right here, in the University of North Dakota,” Link said.
St. Paul native Ethan Taylor, a sophomore in Accountancy and Varsity Esports athlete, said he is grateful to be able to compete in the news esports space. What’s more, he said, he is honored to be able to share that space with his teammates.
“To me, being a varsity esports athlete means being a part of a family that is a melting pot of people from different walks of life,” he said. “It means being a part of something bigger than myself that I hold utmost joy and pride for. It means love for my people and love for my university.”
Before the event got underway, Ryan Kraus, coach of the esports team, led team members through the new facility. He pointed out the offices, glass-walled classroom and visiting competition space, as well as the space where the UND team will compete when hosting a “LAN tournament” (short for “local area network,” when a visiting university attends a UND-hosted tournament in person). When asked, he said “It means everything” for the team to be able to settle into its new space.
Kraus beamed with pride when he spoke at the event, and thanked everyone involved with helping bring the facility to completion. He also brought the team down from the top of the Social Stairs to where the speakers were standing, so they could celebrate the event together as a team.
The esports space is now fully furnished, UND branded and ready for practice and competition. Dozens of new computers sit atop new tables, with large screen televisions mounted nearby, to give team members a big-picture view of the action.
And later Friday, those team members were able to give visitors a closer look at the facility. Some of those visitors may even one day hope to attend UND and compete in the space, as Friday’s ribbon cutting coincided with the North Dakota and Minnesota state esports tournament, hosted by Fenworks, at the Alerus Center. Fenworks, a K-12 esports company active in 50 schools in North Dakota, brought more than 75 students to Grand Forks for the tournament. Those students toured the new UND facility throughout the evening.
Kaleb Dschaak, founder of Fenworks and recent UND graduate, said the completion of the UND facility will only help strengthen esports in North Dakota. He said it is only natural that universities help esports flourish, and that doing so provides yet another space for students to belong.
“I think higher education really leads a lot of the development,” Dschaak said. “This is going to be an opportunity for students to see themselves in the higher ed space. They’re going to see a space for them to belong, they’re going to see opportunities to be an athlete that weren’t there to them before. I think this is really going to show students, especially students who are STEM minded, that they matter and that they belong too.”