AKRON In the months between now and the start of the fall semester, the University of Akron’s new esports program will take shape.
The university announced several months ago that it was launching the program on a varsity sports level, along with club teams, and named Michael Fay as the program’s director. As Fay has begun the process of building the program alongside university students and officials, he’s been encouraged by the response of students in interested in being part of UA’s esports efforts.
"The first major step just getting a good idea of the size and shape of the program was," Fay said. "We had a page on our website asking students to submit their name if they were interested and over 1,200 were interested in the program, which includes over 600 current students, 200 incoming freshmen and 400 prospective students."
Fay, who wasn’t on campus when the university first announced its esports program, admitted that one of the big challenges facing the program is connecting with all of the students who want to be part of it. He credited the university’s administration with taking what he described as a "forward-thinking approach" to the program and for recognizing the appeal of esports to the current generation of students now in the high school and college age range.
However, according to Fay, it’s the students themselves who will play one of the largest roles in getting the program up and running and making sure that it draws in the best competitors.
"Student organization is a driving force behind this. It can be easier to mobilize students if they’re already there on campus," Fay said. "If they know what opportunities are there, we can get them connected."
The fall semester is the target for having the esports program up and running and although the program is new on the UA campus, the esports world itself is well-established on the college level. Governing bodies and tournaments are in place and Akron will be working to carve out its own place in that world once it begins competing.
Before the program can officially launch, getting the facilities and networking capabilities for its players is essential.
"For a competitive esports player, the big things are having good network speed and making sure that with such a large number of computers all running in area, there’s not negative effect on bandwidth," Fay said. "Gaming PCs use a lot of power, so you have to make sure all of your power requirements are met and because gaming PCs run hot, the area has to be well-ventilated too."
Unlike most other varsity sports programs, the UA esports program will have multiple venues around campus. According to Fay, the program’s main base will be the welcome center area at Infocision Stadium, located next to the Stile Athletic Fieldhouse and Lee Jackson Field complex containing the university’s baseball, softball, track and soccer facilities.
However, the esports program will also utilize the former offices of UA’s student newspaper, The Buchtelite, inside the Student Union building, along with a storefront space inside the university’s Honors College building.
Having plenty of space will be a good starting point for the UA esports program, but there is also the personnel side of the equation. Fay, who was previously a search engine optimization analyst for dealer.com and has a degree in emergent media, explained that he and the UA administration are working to put the right people in place.
"The system for having advisors being put in place is in progress. We want to have student coaches for each varsity team and the club teams will have student-coaches," Fay said.
Fay is also impressed by the diversity of those who have expressed interest in the program and noted that within that diversity, there is also a diversity of interest in which games those competitors are interested. Some, he said, like more modern platforms, while others like play games from past eras, 15 or 20 years back.
All of these pieces are being moved into place and that process will continue in the weeks ahead as students, staff, faculty and administrators work to make sure that the program is ready for its debut this fall. Much work remains to be done, but the outline of a new varsity program is taking shape if you look closely.
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