New Esports Center Levels Up Opportunities For Gamers & Academics


File photo from Kristina Vakhman

The E-Sports room is now up and running in Memorial Hall.

Daniel Fappiano, Editor-in-Chief

With an eye towards academics and a devotion towards gaming, Central Connecticut opened a brand new esports centerthe first of its kind at a public or private university in the state.

While the center is ridden with brand new gaming computers through a partnership with Dell, Central President Dr. Zulma Toro said CCSU’s new Esports room is more than just playing games.

“It is not about gaming and having fun,” Toro said. “It is about developing a unique set of skills for our graduates and offering relevant academic programs that will allow them to get well paying jobs after they leave.”

According to Toro, the room will allow for faculty members in subjects such as Business and Computer Science to teach with a different approach due to higher technology. Rather than the room just being just for games, Toro feels the space could allow for research and other methods of higher learning.

“It’s not only exciting, it’s relevant and will allow us to bring students and faculty with unique talents, research and academic skills,” Toro said. The skills it will develop include teamwork, ability to solve complex problems, ability to take risks and try new things [and] those are some very unique skills that will differentiate our graduates from the rest.”

Toro left the possibility open for new types of programs to be added to the curriculum due to the addition of the center.

George Claffey, Central’s Chief Information Officer was in charge of the group deciding what technology should be used in the center. Claffey said that his team often worked with members of the esports club to decided which types of keyboards or monitors to use. Those same students saw the academic impact the center can have.

“The academic impacts of this are just as provocative as the gaming aspects,” Claffey said. “As we talked to students in the esports and gaming club, they were excited about how courses connected with them and were curricular. As excited as people have been to come and play Smash Bros, they’re just as excited to see the development of academic courses, things that they could take.”

Outside of just new programs, Toro stated that the center could open up more opportunities for scholarships in the esports focus.

“This is the first step to building something bigger,” Toro said. “The potential for attracting donations, donations that will allow us to establish scholarships for students interested in academic programs in this area.”

Along with Dell, Central also partnered with cross-platform game engine company Unity 3D. The company gave Central a grant worth 100 licenses of their service. According to Claffey, Unity 3D could allow for classes such a video character design and digital storytelling.

Nicholas Streifel, manager of the esports center says the room has already been drawing interest from multiple different faculty.

“We want to make it so we are using this room around the clock,” Streifel said. “Faculty members in other departments are looking at stuff like how does playing video games increase heart rates, putting on heart rate monitors as they play League of Legends. When they’re getting mad and raging – what is really happening to the body?”

While Central is hoping the center will become an academic resource, the esports room will feature plenty of gaming.

Currently, CCSU is in the process of creating an intercollegiate team. Aside from the club, Central’s esports teams will be taken more seriously and compete in major tournaments. The team is looking to hire coaches and trainers to help facilitate their schedules.

For Streifel, the creation of an intercollegiate esports team shows how much potential the sport has.

“While esports club would be intramurals, this would be like varsity,” Streifel said. “We are treating it just as serious as varsity, we can’t call it that yet because of all the legal things and esports isn’t there yet. For now there are several organizations we are hoping to join.”

Central has already joined the Eastern Athletic College Conference and is looking at potentially affiliating with the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference. Either conference would facilitate Central’s esports team to compete higher than the club level.

Despite the start towards hosting an intercollegiate team, Athletics Director Brian Barrio notes that the esports program will not directly correlate with the athletics program. He states that there are no current plans to take esports under the athletics umbrella and states that intercollegiate esports will remain separate.

While esports won’t necessarily join the immediate varsity ranks, Barrio still expects the esports program to be a success.

“I think it’s going to be a big things, I just think it’ll be a big thing that is housed outside of athletics,” Bario said. “I could see that team bringing a lot of pride and visibility to Central the same way our athletics programs do.”

Currently CCSU’s two main teams focus on Overwatch and League of Legends. The new center could open up the possibility of Central hosting collegiate tournaments of those two games. Toro sees the idea of bringing esports tournaments to campus as a way to increase revenue.

“It’s not the top priority, but we think these [tournaments] can serve as a mechanism to bring additional revenue to the university,” Toro said. “We are in the final stages of having a rec center, we have spoken about the possibility about having a bigger facility there for things like these, in the future who knows, we will see how things go, but we know it’s at least a billion dollar industry and we think there is a lot of potential for us.”

Before plans of academic benefits and varsity esports came about, Toro says she got the idea for the center after seeing a presentation by a former Rutgers graduate. She says that after talking with Claffey and Barrio, they all saw the vision and decided to proceed.

The team divided into six subcommittees deciding how the center would function. After planning and about 70 business days over the summer, the center was built.

While in subcommittees, Claffey says that each group continued to stay in contact with the esports club, gaining their input on the situation.

For Nick Pudlinski, President of the esports club, having Claffey and others reach out to help design the room showed how dedicated CCSU was.

“I was definitely grateful, I’ve been apart of the club since my freshman year so coming on 3 and a half years, to see the massive amount of interest shown and bringing us to the next level on campus and esports organization, I was ecstatic about it,” Pudlinski said. “I am glad they kept asking us for info because we got to give back a lot of good feedback, it was a two-way street, we got them to help us build the room and we helped them to get it right.”

Central’s esports center cost the university around $300,000. Through their various sponsorships, Toro says the school received a major discount.

“We did get support from some of our industry partners so we didn’t have to pay in some instances,” Toro said. “In others we got a big discount.”

The President went on to state that she stands by the university’s decision and thinks it will be resourceful going forward.

“If you want to be good at something as an institution of higher education, you have to do the best you can. The beauty of this investment is that it has multiple elements and avenues,” Toro said. “It’s not only about certain students and having a facility, it’s about academic programs we offer and opening opportunities for faculty and students to do research. If you can accomplish all of those goals with modest investment, that’s the way we will roll.”

According to Claffey, new Connecticut legislature states that K-12 teachers must look to “gamify” their classrooms. Central’s CIO feels that since everything is already digitized, investing in esports is a look to the future.

“It’s becoming part of our lives, it’s not just preparing people for the video game industry, it’s about preparing teachers for how they’re going to teach in the future,” Claffey said. “This is multidisciplinary and our approach has been multidisciplinary, I think its been a challenge but its been one of our biggest success.”

While the center is new, Pudlinski sees how much potential CCSU esports could bring.

“I hope we are the premiere esports college in Connecticut, we’re the first with a room like this which is a step in the right direction,” Pudlinski said. “Getting official teams up and running that’ll have paid coaches and trainers, that’ll be a huge thing for the guys on the team, I just really think we’re going to be at the forefront of esports in CT.”

Central’s esports center broke new ground in Connecticut. President Toro is hoping that the center is looked at as both a place of higher learning and a successful esports program.

“Being recognized nationwide not only as a place where we host big tournaments and make money, but as an academic excellence center,” Toro said. “A place where we offer very high academic programs that prepare professionals for the industry, at the same time a place that we do research that informs designers that inform the companies in this industry.”