A room in Draper Hall at the downtown University at Albany campus has been transformed into a competitive video gaming arena.
For years, playing video games on campus meant a quick game of Madden between lectures. Now, it has become a serious and sanctioned pursuit. UAlbany’s eSports arena features six Nintendo Switch consoles and a dozen high-performance Alienware computers, each equipped with an Alienware pro-gaming keyboard, Xbox One controller and Turtle Beach Atlas One gaming headset.
eSports has morphed into a global phenomenon and a billion dollar industry.
Head Coach/Director Michael Leczinsky says UAlbany eSports recruited 75 students in two weeks after launching in the spring. "We're one of the biggest teams in the ECAC Athletic Conference, and we're one of two teams running a team in every single one of the eight games that the conference offers. All of our teams are co-ed, and we actually have a team this year that's 7 and 0 and undefeated in the game of Overwatch. Overwatch is game that a few months ago sold out the stadium in Philadelphia where the 76ers play basketball. eSports sells out stadiums throughout the world, and more people watch the League of Legends Finals than watch the Super Bowl. So the number of participants, the size of the industry, everything about eSports is growing very quickly, and we're thrilled to offer our students at the University at Albany the opportunity to compete in a professional structure in a professional league."
More than fifty ECAC eSports member schools field over 200 teams, with most of the competition conducted online. Players practice several hours a week.
UAlbany junior Juliet Hahn has played since childhood and says eSports transformed her college experience. "I play a role called 'support' in all the games I play. Basically what I have to do is watch my teammates and take care of them. Obviously they can take care of themselves, but also I spend a lot of time making sure everyone's doing OK, because if no one's doing OK then no one's having a good time."
UAlbany President Havidán Rodríguez took interest in eSports as a tool to engage students and foster camaraderie. "My son works in I.T. and he is engaged in these types of sports, and so I called him up, well actually texted him, and we chatted about this initiative, and the computer programming, the computers that are here, and he was super-excited about it, so he said 'this is a great thing, Dad, this is amazing,' and so when he said that I became even more excited. This will be something that 20 years, 30 years down the road, they're going to remember and they're gonna appreciate. "
Rodríguez notes the UAlbany team includes students across a variety of majors, backgrounds and class years.
- WATCH the UAlbany press conference celebrating the eSports program launch via Periscope.
Jose Novoa Lucas, a senior at the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity, describes the ultra-realistic soccer simulation video game FIFA 20. "Anything that a real-life soccer player would do, you control it to the full capacity. Back when I was younger playing FIFA on the Game Cube you could barely make out the people's faces. Now the technology has gotten to the point that the players look so real when you're playing it."