A new space on Butler University’s campus dedicated to esports and gaming is in the works. But it will be about much more than one of the world’s hottest industries.
The Esports and Gaming Lounge is set to open in late November. It will be located in Atherton Union, adjacent to the newly designed Plum Market at C-Club, which will open around the same time. Open to the campus community, the space will have stations dedicated to esports, or competitive, organized video gaming. There will be 16 gaming PCs, an area of gaming consoles, and an area for tabletop gaming.
But this is just the beginning. Plans for a much larger, 7,500-square-foot multi-use space in the Butler Parking Garage are in the works, says Eric Kammeyer, Butler’s new Director of Esports and Gaming Technology. The space is slated to open fall 2020, and it will build upon the Atherton Union space, featuring 50 gaming PCs, an area of gaming consoles, and room for technology-infused corporate trainings and events or youth STEM and esports camps. It will also have broadcasting production capabilities for live events such as podcasts or esports competitions, a coworking space, a cafe, and a small office space available for lease to support new ventures.
In addition to the Butler esports team that competes in the BIG EAST and will start practicing in the new space, gaming and innovative technologies are being incorporated into the wider Butler curriculum, as the new spaces will enable campus to serve as a sports hub for the greater Indianapolis community. These new spaces will foster student access, community partnerships, and innovations in teaching and learning—all key aspects of Butler’s new strategic direction.
“While competitive and recreational esports is a key driver of this new space, our vision is larger,” says Butler’s Vice President for Strategy and Innovation, Melissa Beckwith. “Our goal is to create a space that will ultimately support curricular innovation, serve the K-12 community, and align with two of the city’s economic engines—sports and technology. Integrating these efforts is the key to creating maximum impact for our students, faculty, and broader community.”
In 2014, more than 70 million people across the globe watched esports on the internet or television, according to Newzoo, the leading provider of market intelligence covering global games, esports, and mobile markets. That same year, a single esports event retained viewership that surpassed the NBA’s Game Seven.
Newzoo expects that esports viewership will increase to 427 million people and top $1 billion in revenue in 2019.
“Gaming is extremely popular among students, and its popularity will only continue to grow,” says Butler’s Vice President for Student Affairs Frank E. Ross. “Universities must be responsive to students’ changing needs and interests, identifying innovative and meaningful ways to engage them on campus. This investment in Butler students is important as we continue to enhance the student experience.”
It is also an area exploding with job opportunities.
Butler Assistant Professor of Creative Media and Entertainment Ryan Rogers just published a book on esports—Understanding Esports: An Introduction to the Global Phenomenon. The book explores the rise of the esports industry and its significance, and is the first comprehensive look at an industry that has risen so quickly.
Because of that accelerated growth, the industry needs employees.
“It is incumbent on us, as an institute of higher learning, to prepare students for jobs and get them thinking about new jobs they may not have previously thought about, or may not even know exist,” says Rogers, whose research has explored the ways video games influence their audiences and users. “It is imperative to serve students, and this is a growth field. There are opportunities for students in this field, from competing, to working, to conducting research. As a higher ed institution, we should work to understand why, like anything else, this is happening and how it is happening.”
Rogers teaches an esports class. He also teaches a class that works with FOX Sports. This semester, that class is working closely with Caffeine, a new broadcasting service that is mostly geared toward streaming video games.
But it is about much more than just integrating esports into the Butler curriculum. There is a much broader, cross-disciplinary effort being made toward integrating gaming into pedagogy across campus.
James McGrath, Professor of Religion and Classics, says: “There is real educational value in the mixing of gaming and learning because, I remember at one point in my life, learning was fun.”
McGrath says as educators, it is easy to fall into old habits such as talking at people, or doing “other boring things like that.” But, he says, there is a reason that students spend hours playing video games. These games give people the freedom to fail and try again.
“We often forget the need to incorporate failure in any educational experience that is ultimately going to lead to success and learning,” he says. “The only way to become good at something is to do it repeatedly, and fail, and if you get penalized for failing, you will never get the chance to ultimately get very good at it.”
Incorporating game-like elements, such as a point-based system, into higher education sparks learning, McGrath says. This is the gamification of higher education.
For McGrath, this started when he was teaching a course on the Bible. The second day of class, he knew he had to teach his students, essentially, a history lesson about why Bibles are different and where the table of contents comes from, for example. He decided to create a card game, Canon: The Card Game.
“People like to game,” McGrath says. “Faculty are starting to recognize the value of these types of things as part of culture and things we can harness for good in terms of learning outcomes. The fact that institutions such as our own are being more aware that people need to be well-rounded and that involves different things, even gaming, is a huge step toward true innovation.”
Jason Goldsmith, Associate Professor of English, quite literally studies video games.
He offers a course called Video Game Narrative, which looks at how video games tell stories and what they can do differently from a standard novel or film. One iteration of the course studied Lord of the Rings. The students read the novel, watched the film, and then played online with people all over the world. The class looked at how the narrative shifted based on environment.
“These kids grow up playing video games much more than watching movies, so it is vital that we teach them to think about this medium critically with the same attention we ask of them when reading Shakespeare,” he says. “If they are playing these games, and if they will one day produce these games, we must encourage them to think more deeply about the relationship between story, game, and what players want out of a game.”
Goldsmith has also gamified aspects of classes he teaches, such as a course he recently taught on Jane Austen. Austen played many games when she was younger, and games play a crucial role in her novels. Students had to create a Jane Austen game, complete with a character sheet that reflected the characteristics Austen valued in her main characters.
Goldsmith says he looks forward to studying the broader cultural significance of gaming, while also making sure Butler continues to evolve and prepare students for emerging career opportunities.
Butler is working University-wide to do just that.
When John George ‘18 started at Butler, he had two passions: sports and video games. But he had never heard of esports.
He was watching ESPN one morning and heard something about competitive video games and esports. His mind was blown. He started Googling like crazy, and he found there was this whole world out there with teams and leagues. He started playing League of Legends and was hooked.
By the time he was a senior, he heard about Rogers and his esports class. After the first class, he ran up to Rogers, and the two decided to start the Butler esports student organization. There wasn’t much interest that first year, and George was the only senior at the meeting. There were a handful of others.
“I can’t believe we went from having some interest, to now being on the brink of an actual space on campus,” says George, who worked for Echo Fox, an esports organization in Los Angeles, running a podcast and producing video after graduation. “We used to all practice in our dorm rooms apart, so the chance to all be together will be amazing.”
Interest has grown quite a bit, too. In 2018, the esports team started competing in the BIG EAST. The team competes in two titles in the BIG EAST now—Rocket League and League of Legends.
“The BIG EAST Conference and our members have been formally exploring the esports space since 2017,” says Chris Schneider, Senior Associate Commissioner for Sport Administration and Championships at the BIG EAST. “It’s exciting to see growth on each campus, and Butler University is certainly one of the leading programs in the conference.”
Growth on Butler’s campus over the last few years has really skyrocketed. There is discussion around Butler-sanctioned scholarships, Kammeyer says.
“Interest on campus has mirrored the explosion of this industry at the global level,” he says. “We continue to work with our partners at the high school level to develop advancement opportunities much like traditional sports. We want to provide an end-to-end solution for those that want to pursue anything that falls under the umbrella of esports and innovative technology, from music and production, to competition, to developing the games they are playing.”
Butler is not the only member of the Indianapolis community active in the esports and gaming space.
Ryan Vaughn, Indiana Sports Corp President, says esports is no longer an emerging phenomenon, but rather something that the wider community is very much engaged in. However, Indianapolis lacks the physical space to bring this sport to life.
“With basketball or swimming, for example, it is easy for us as a city to demonstrate we have the infrastructure here to compete with other cities to host major events. But for esports events, it is different,” Vaughn says. “It will be a game changer for us to now have a community space and a University to partner with.”
Esports also differ from other sports in their clear connection to STEM fields and tech, Vaughn says. To continue to grow in these areas as a state, it is important to recognize and develop that connection.
Scott Dorsey agrees. Dorsey, Managing Partner at High Alpha and Past-Chair of the Indiana Sports Corp, sees Butler’s new esports and tech space as key to developing Indiana’s workforce.
“Esports is an excellent example of the collision between sports and technology in Indianapolis,” Dorsey says. “We are a city that embraces our sports legacy and is well positioned to leverage our explosive growth in technology and innovation. Butler’s planned esports and technology park will be an important asset in our city as we build on our unique strengths and further develop, recruit, and retain top tech talent to the state.”
Potential partnerships with professional sports teams, other universities, K-12 schools, and start-up companies are all part of Butler’s larger plan, says Kammeyer.
This past summer, for example, Butler partnered with NexTech, an Indianapolis-based organization committed to elevating the technical, critical-thinking, and problem-solving skills of K-12 students, to host their Explorers Camp and provide programming for the Catapult Program—an intensive summer experience for high school students interested in exploring careers in technology.
“The investment Butler is making in innovative and transformative technology will be a tremendous asset for our city as we work to open doors for youth to explore opportunities in related fields,” says NexTech President Karen Jung.
Partnerships could lead to potential internship opportunities for Butler students, summer camps for community members, and mentorship programs for the esports team, for example.
Take the Indiana Pacers, for example. In 2017, Cody Parrent was hired to be their Director of Esports Operations. That year, they were one of 17 inaugural teams in the NBA 2K League. The league drafts players 18 years old or older from all over the world.
Since that inaugural year, the league has added six new teams, including one from China.
“We have seen interest grow exponentially,” says Parrent, who coaches the team, serves as the general manager, and works on partnerships.
As part of his partnership work, Parrent has spent time guest lecturing in Butler’s esports classes. And that has led to the Pacers having multiple Butler interns—a multimedia intern and a business operations intern.
“A lot of people know about the gaming side of esports, but there is a whole other side, which is the business side of things, and that is what I see as the most exciting part of what Butler is doing,” Parrent says. “The sport itself is open to everyone, as is the business side of things. We are ecstatic about finally having a hub that will bring everything together. The possibilities are endless.”
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