Higher Education Esports Programs Need AV/IT Expert Support

With two years of hybrid or fully distance learning in the books, colleges and universities understand that a digitally enriched, future-proof and layered education experience is what students, faculty and other stakeholders are waiting to move forward. This is most noticeable in the classroom, where collaborative AV infrastructure has evolved from individual overhead projectors and manual drop-down screens to one-touch video conferencing connectivity and remotely managed IP-based AV distribution for dozens of screens. . The usefulness of these solutions in a blended learning environment is both evident and well reported. Often the most instructive technology integration projects on higher education campuses actually happen outside of the classroom.

Many of the most popular and intellectually productive social and sporting activities rely on technological pillars. Perhaps the best illustration of this idea is college esports, which has gone from a niche interest to the edge of a monoculture. To give an idea of ​​the ubiquity of esports, consider that more fans are watching the League of Legends World Championship than the Super Bowl and 32% of 13-39 year olds say they would rather watch an esports competition on TV than a traditional sports game like football, according to a data report from YPulse. Schools are increasingly capitalizing on this massive interest by building state-of-the-art esports facilities and using these tech-rich spaces as tools for recruitment, retention, community building, varsity sports and even academics. The expansion of esports into higher education is a boon for manufacturers and tech integrators ready to get into the game.

Central Connecticut State University

Our facility is a great recruiting tool, and we even use it as a venue for Connecticut High School Esports Championships. —George Claffey, Chief Information Officer, Central Connecticut State University (Image credit: Central Connecticut State University)

Contextualizing esports

CCSU's George Claffey

(Image credit: CCSU)

“Students today walk into their campus esports lab to play Super Smash Brothers with strangers, the same way previous generations showed up at the park to play pickup hoops.” —Georges Claffey

The question of how to define esports is complicated because unlike traditional sports such as football or hockey, esports as a category includes any video game played where there is a “winning state”. Countless games fit this description, but most schools only officially compete in the most popular half-dozen. Among this select group are League of Legends, Surveillance, rocket leagueand Call of Duty.

There are a variety of reasons why games like these, and esports more broadly, have become so popular. Perhaps the most obvious reason is that esports is digital, not physical. Not only does this allow players to participate regardless of their physical athleticism, but it also makes games “placeless”. This means players of all shapes and sizes can compete from anywhere in the world, leveling the playing field and opening up games to much larger groups of participants. Fans can also watch from anywhere in the world.

Esports exploded at the college level in particular, and schools realized they had the opportunity to meet students right where they were by providing a highly social activity that today’s college-age population grew immersed in. “Today’s students walk into their campus esports lab to play Super Smash Brothers with strangers in the same way previous generations showed up at the park to play pickup hoops,” explained George Claffey, chief information officer of Central Connecticut State University (CCSU), which supports varsity teams in three separate games. “Our facility is a great recruiting tool for that reason, and we even use it as a venue for Connecticut High School Esports Championships.”

AV/computer technologies needed to support esports programs

So where do manufacturers and technology integrators come in? To equip the facilities, of course. Esports is played in arenas that are essentially elaborate computer labs – medium-sized rooms equipped with state-of-the-art machines, configured specifically for competitive gaming and broadcasting. Some schools reuse existing computer labs for this while others spend millions on new construction. Schools like Miami University (Ohio) with Division 1 varsity teams are also outfitting their arenas with a “casting area” for commentators and production crews to broadcast the action to fans in the stands and at a much larger online audience. These spaces have significant infrastructure needs.

In addition to gaming monitors, processors, and lighting, esports arenas require tools for signal distribution and routing, often through AV over IP solutions. During matches, these tools allow broadcast teams to switch between streams on their own screens while broadcasting content from others on the main streams. During practices, it allows coaches to use real-time “game tape” to educate their players. Doing this over the network reduces latency, obviously an essential part of successful gameplay and consumption. While some of these investments may sound like bells and whistles, they are extremely necessary because much of the video production, editing, and monitoring takes place elsewhere on campus. Having a high-speed video system with low latency is a must.

Central Connecticut State University

(Image credit: Central Connecticut State University)

In more than a few cases, successful investments in esports arenas have been transformed into larger technology investments elsewhere. These additional projects can include things like XR labs where “hands-on” virtual experiences can replicate real-world experiences, giving students greater exposure to their chosen fields before they have to fully commit to this. choice.

Esports in higher education is growing exponentially. More than ever, these programs need the expertise of AV/IT manufacturers and integrators. “As we look to the future, we seek to leverage these technology investments to help students connect to next-generation technology,” CCSU’s Toro concluded. Now is the time for manufacturers and integrators to get in the game.