Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by Elizabeth Tinajero
GCU News Bureau
Grand Canyon University’s Esports Arena is no longer just the GCU Esports Arena. It’s the GCU Esports Arena rebooted.
Over the summer, the facility received a major facelift, with the modest 1,706-square-foot space on the second floor of the Technology Building taking over an adjacent classroom and now occupying a little more than 3,200 square feet of space.
“We have effectively doubled our facility,” said Esports Coordinator Albert Lee, which means GCU Esports will be able to accommodate more gaming enthusiasts than ever before as esports continues its rise on campus. “Realistically, I believe we can accommodate anywhere from 100 to 120 unique visitors at peak hours who can comfortably sit in here and play games. But for special events, and for Welcome Week, we’re expecting significantly more than 150 every hour.”
It was just two years ago when the University’s gamers occupied a small room in Thunder Alley, where Taco Bell is now, before taking over a much larger classroom space in the Technology Building to try to accommodate the explosive growth and popularity of the sport.
According to a July 10, 2018, article by GameCrate, video games are now the most popular and profitable form of entertainment: “Last year, the gaming industry produced an estimated revenue of $116 billion, beating TV and TV streaming services’ $105 billion. … The movie industry only made $41 billion, while music only made $17 billion,” said GameCrate, using statistics provided by a Reuters report. “In addition, the gaming industry is still growing, seeing a 10.7% growth over last year, as opposed to other entertainment services like TV, whose revenue fell by 8 percent.”
It became obvious during the 2018-19 academic year that the GCU esports space needed to grow even more. Not only did students constantly stream through the facility during Welcome Week, but throughout the year the arena would be packed at peak times.
“We used to have lines (of enthusiasts waiting to get on a gaming station) when this place first opened. Eventually, people realized when the high traffic hours were and just wouldn’t show up,” Lee said. “But hopefully now, because of the expansion, we can accommodate more people at the evening, 6 p.m. times.”
When esports first established a formalized space in Thunder Alley, Lee said, “Back then, the initiative was, OK, esports has always been big in the professional scene, and you might see it on the news, where so and so professional player has won more money than, say, someone at Wimbledon. At the college and university level, it always has been competitive first and there hasn’t been a focus on community.
“So last year, when we first opened our space in the Technology Building, we wanted to incorporate that community feel -- people who weren’t in the top 1%, who weren’t the No. 1 best player. We wanted people who play for fun, who wanted to de-stress, relax, enjoy themselves, and as it happened, last year we had a very explosive growth. We grew significantly.”
GCU’s Esports Club grew from about 50 to 60 registered members since its founding to more than 500 just after the fall of 2018, making it the second biggest club on campus behind the Havocs. But, counting online students who game with GCU Esports Club members along with competitive teams and intramural competitors who game with the club, that overall reach is more like 900 gaming enthusiasts.
“Now, we’re at the point where we needed the expansion to accommodate how many people we had,” Lee said.
This latest expansion means new jobs. Lee said the number of student workers at the facility is being doubled for the fall semester to manage the flow, which also figures to be twice as much as last year.
When the arena moved to the Technology Building for the 2018-19 academic year, the space was built in about a week. But doubling the facility this summer meant more than just tearing down a wall. Wiring dozens of new computers meant a lot more work.
“We spent just short of a month,” Lee said of the arena’s upgrade. “It’s been more of an endeavor. We had to use a lot of on-campus support, some third-party departments, and we had more sponsors involved.”
The facility, which once touted 36 computer-gaming stations, now buzzes with more than 70 high-end gaming PCs for all those gaming enthusiasts. The computers include RTX graphics cards and the latest generation of the i7 CPUs from Intel so users can run games with the maximum graphics of 144 frames per second.
Gamers can do all that gaming in the comfort of premium, high-end gaming chairs from OPSEAT.
The viewing lounge, too, has been expanded, incorporating 30 chairs so esports fans can watch various gaming events on a 60-inch TV.
“People can watch all our teams practicing or playing against other schools on this TV, or if there’s a special event -- we have our own Super Bowl-type events in the video game world, where we would have the world finals, say, in Germany or in Korea -- people will be here at 1 a.m. for a special, live event. We’ll get 50 people, 70 people watching it for six hours,” Lee said.
Additionally, for the players on GCU’s competitive esports teams, “We have a new varsity training facility with six of the highest tier, high-performance computers on a stage with stage lighting and a backdrop,” Lee said. “We have the full set-up, and we will have streaming cameras set up so we can broadcast our scrimmages against other schools. Say, if we were playing against ASU or U of A, we could have a camera dedicated to each player on the stage at the same time.”
The staging area is where visitors might notice a wall emblazoned with Mountain Dew Game Fuel, an energy drink product by PepsiCo. that's formulated for gamers.
"Pepsi, as you can tell, is more involved than ever before," Lee said.
The competitive scrimmages will be something the GCU community will want to watch, considering the success of the University’s varsity Overwatch team. In the spring, the Tespa League team defeated the No. 2 ranked University of California-Irvine to win a quarterfinal spot in the ESPN Collegiate Esports Challenge in Houston. It was a shocking win, and ESPN dubbed GCU’s rise as its “Cinderella run.” Although the team lost a nail-biter to Orange Coast College in the best-of-five first round, just making it to the ESPN event put GCU Esports on the map.
Not that GCU’s Esports Arena won't be an equal-opportunity gaming space. The facility's console area also has been expanded and includes Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch consoles.
“We support any kind of interest, so if you like playing competitive games of one genre or if you like playing casually on another genre, we like to support all communities here,” Lee said.
During Welcome Week, the GCU Esports Arena will be open from 10 a.m. to midnight (the facility also will be open on Welcome Week weekend, though the hours will be different). A new student information meeting will follow at 7 p.m. Aug. 29 in Room 131 of the Technology Building.
Contact GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.