Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by Travis Neely
GCU News Bureau
Under the glow of soft purple lights and the red gleam of keyboard keys, and with the subtle whirrrr of the gaming computer as a comforting accompaniment, about 50 gamers, most of them freshmen, dropped into Grand Canyon University’s eSports Club digs on Tuesday on the second floor of the Technology Building.
Beckoned by the GCU Engage App, they showed up in force to a Welcome Week meetup Tuesday afternoon for two clubs – not just the techie-cool eSports Club, which reached No. 9 in the national Tespa League Playoffs Overwatch rankings in 2017-18, but also a fellow tech club, the Innovative Computing Club. The two organizations partnered this week to reach out to new students, showcase what they do and welcome members into the GCU eSports and Innovative Computing communities.
Meanwhile, across the campus in Thunder Alley, a less techie kind of gaming was going on, one that shuns computer screens — or electricity, even. The Modern Board Gamers Guild broke out a few tabletop games for Game Night, welcoming about 100 students to this old-school kind of gaming that’s become new again.
“Most of the people (here) right now are actually freshmen,” said GCU eSports Club President Justen Johns, who said the competitive gaming club culled from a membership of about 60 last academic year. “We’re expecting it to grow to over 200 (members) this year.”
According to Forbes, the eSports industry is expecting revenues in 2018 to hit $905 million, based on data from Newzoo – that’s a 38 percent increase from $655 million in 2017. Revenue is expected to surpass the billion-dollar mark in 2019.
Just consider how gaming is the meat ‘n’ potatoes of pop culture right now, with games such as League of Legends continuing to soar in popularity. And the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s executive board on Monday announced that it plans to roll out eSports in spring 2019 as an official school activity.
GCU is investing in that eSports movement, recently expanding the eSports facility from its space peppered among eateries in Thunder Alley to a three-times larger, 2,500-square-foot room on the second floor of the Technology Building that touts 36 state-of-the art computer gaming stations and gaming chairs along with seven PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles and a tournament station with a 75-inch TV.
What started as a group of friends forming a social club of gamers just a few years ago has evolved into a full-fledged competitive club.
Freshman Jamie Bettis, from Couer d’Alene, Idaho, loves gaming and played at home with her brother, also a gamer.
“I mostly like games like PUBG and Fortnight, which are battle royale games. But I also like MMR (match-making ranking) and first-person,” Bettis said.
She stopped by the eSports Club facility to use a proper gaming computer – her laptop just doesn’t have the RAM needed for the games she loves to play.
“I used to use my brother’s,” she said, but now that she’s away at college, she doesn’t have access to it.
She doesn’t think she’s good enough to be part of the competitive GCU team, but she wanted to find a community of students who, like her, love to connect through gaming.
“It’s nice when you’re a girl gamer (to find that gaming community),” she said, adding that she has gotten a lot of heat for playing video games. “But it’s nice to come here, where it seems pretty accepting.”
Jaden Montgomery, a freshman from Mesa, also dropped in to check out the eSports facilities and meet like-minded gamers.
“I am (a gamer), sadly,” he said with a laugh. “I play everything on their (the eSports Club) list,” though right now he’s into League of Legends. “Other than that, I came to meet more people,” he said as he turned and struck up a conversation with another freshman who dropped in to see what the eSports and Innovative Computing clubs are all about.
Montgomery’s roommate, freshman Andrew Berthold, who’s from Oregon, said he does some PC gaming but admitted with a laugh, “I’m bad at most games.”
While many of those who dropped by Tuesday’s meetup were there to talk gaming and eSports, members of the Innovative Computing Club also were out in force to let new students know what they do.
Unlike the eSports Club, the Innovative Computing Club isn’t involved in competitive gaming, club president Christian Taillon said, though its members do compete. Instead, its activities are centered on information technology, computer science projects and career growth — specific technology skill sets, such as networking and cybersecurity programming, for example.
Members compete in Cisco networking competitions and the Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition. Industry experts also stop by club meetings to talk about career opportunities.
Crystal Wake, Innovative Computing Club treasurer, said the club’s goal this year is “to connect with other clubs and get the GCU community involved.”
She added that becoming a member of ICC means more than competitions or projects. It also means connecting to a community of friends.
“If you’re struggling in your classes, people who passed that class will say, ‘Hey, I’ll sit down with you and help you learn,’” she said.
Members of the group recently returned from Black Hat and DefCon hacker conventions in Las Vegas, where they gained a lot of tech knowledge they’d love to share with students who might have the same passion for technology.
Technology aside, the Modern Board Gamers Guild went all throwback for Game Night, though the kinds of games students saw piled on tables weren’t your mom’s board games. Classics like Monopoly and Battleship gave way to modern titles such as Dead of Winter and 7 Wonders.
Mark Olmos, a professor in the College of Theology and the club’s faculty advisor, said the new club was organized in the spring.
“It started out as a group of kids playing board games at my house every other week,” Olmos said. One of the students suggested they should form a club, so they did.
Just as eSports is soaring in popularity, so is board gaming alongside it. Millennials are chucking their gaming controllers to sit down around a table with friends, deal a few cards and roll the dice. But they don’t just want to play Chutes and Ladders or Operation. They want trendy new games. It’s an old-school social construct that has been repackaged and introduced in a new way. Apparently, board gaming is all the rage.
The popularity of board gaming showed at Thunder Alley: “We were packed,” Olmos said as tables were filled with students ready to delve into a new board game.
Students who might have missed Tuesday’s eSports/ICC event, don’t fret.
The eSports Club space is open every day during Move-In Week, Johns said – from 10 a.m. to midnight every day except Sunday, when the hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. And the good news is that students can drop in and play for free this week and next.
Students can get connected to the Innovative Computing Club and Modern Board Gamers Guild by visiting the Associated Students of Grand Canyon University website.
High-tech gaming? Old-school tabletop board games? Either way, it’s game on at GCU.
Contact GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at email@example.com or at 602-639-7901.
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