Esports facility opening at UIS

click to enlarge Esports facility opening at UIS
An intercollegiate esports facility opens Sept. 6 at University of Illinois Springfield in a newly renovated space within Founders Residence Hall.

A state-of-the-art intercollegiate sports facility opens Sept. 6 at University of Illinois Springfield, but don't expect to see any of the competitors run, jump or throw.

They'll spend their time sitting, staring and clicking.

Videogaming, or esports, has become the latest team activity on the college campus.

"Esports is a rapidly growing sport that is extremely popular for collegiate and high school-aged students," said James Koeppe, director of UIS Campus Recreation. "Because of this, universities are investing resources to allow students to play on campus with top-of-the-line equipment. The esports arena will also help grow the skills of students interested in computer science and visual art degrees. Not only will students be playing games, they also will be broadcasting and producing events in the arena."

With the addition of the UIS gaming arena, every state university in Illinois, except University of Illinois Chicago, will have its own esports team, Koeppe said.

Increasingly, high school students pondering what college to attend look at what esports opportunities exist on campus, said Jay Swenson, UIS assistant director of facilities and comparative sports.

"This will be quite the recruitment tool for the university," he said.

The new facility is located in renovated space within Founders Residence Hall. The UIS Esports Arena features 13 computers that were built to meet the needs of competitive gaming. The arena also features a PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and Nintendo Switch. These tools will be used for both competitive gaming and recreational play.

"Any student is allowed to use the space, even if they are not interested in joining the team or even being part of the recreational club," Koeppe said. "This was a major reason we purchased the consoles along with the PCs, as we want the space to be inviting to every student."

The university hired William Rios to coach the team.

Rios, a Springfield native, is 23 and a recent graduate of Illinois College. During the day, he works in finance and in the evening, he will coach the team.

The competitive team, led by Rios, will be comprised of 15 to 25 students who will play in the National Esports Collegiate Conference. While currently focused on games like Rocket League and Valorant, the UIS esports team aims to expand its offerings based on student preferences, potentially including titles such as Super Smash Bros, League of Legends and Overwatch, the university said in a prepared statement.

Rios noted that some colleges already offer esports scholarships and added he is hopeful that will someday be the case at UIS.

Koeppe said it cost about $75,000 to refurbish the space that has become the esports arena. Another $30,000 was spent to add desks, computers and other equipment to the arena.

UIS spokesman Blake Wood said the money came from nine university departments and from the Springfield-based M.G. Nelson Family Foundation.

"As a lifelong gamer and firm believer in the transformative power of gaming and esports, I couldn't be more thrilled about the opening of the esports program and arena at UIS," said Mark Nelson, a member of the family foundation. "Gaming has been a significant part of my life, honing invaluable skills like teamwork, communication, strategic thinking and perseverance. Now, with this initiative, students will have the chance to embrace their gaming passions while also gaining essential skills and relationships for life in and outside of college."

The Nelson Foundation has declined to publicly disclose the size of its donation.

Swenson said the esports team will host teams from other colleges in the arena, will play away games on other campuses and will play matches where teams face off virtually.

"It's part of the college experience for teams to travel to other campuses and we want those playing esports to experience this," he said.

Rios said he anticipates this will be the first co-ed intercollegiate team to play for UIS. He said there is no perceived gender advantage for esports competitors.

Scott Reeder, a staff writer for Illinois Times, can be reached at [email protected].

About The Author

Scott Reeder

Scott Reeder is a staff writer at Illinois Times.

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