Butler Esports Park powers up – Indianapolis Monthly


Artwork by Curt Merlo

IN A SPACE once known for chicken and waffles, the future of college athletics is taking shape. On August 24, the former Metro Diner on the Butler University campus opens as Butler Esports Park, a 7,500 square foot space featuring approximately 40 PCs, game consoles, virtual reality stations and a cafe. Here, Butler will field teams that will compete against Big East schools in online video games such as League of Legends and rocket leaguecompetitions that will be broadcast on Twitch and YouTube.

Ovid Butler’s University, which opened in 1855 offering courses in, among other subjects, Tacitus (a Roman historian and politician) and Greek antiquities, today grants a minor in esports communication which begins with a course called Esports: The World of Competitive Gaming. But before you lament the state of education or wonder why parents are spending over $200,000 to send their kids to college to play video games, listen to those involved.

“The site will open countless doors for Butler to become an esports attraction and educational technology hub for the region,” said Eric Kammeyer, director of esports and gaming technology at Butler. (Full disclosure: I worked at Butler for almost 15 years and earned a graduate degree there, but had no connection to the esports program.)

The space will offer community gaming memberships, access to corporate trainings, youth STEM events, esports camps, and versatility for most tech-focused events. It will also have broadcast production capabilities for live events such as podcasts and esports competitions. In other words, says Lee Farquhar, acting director of Butler’s School of Journalism & Creative Media, for every student playing the games, dozens of students, faculty, and staff will support them through the video production, marketing, promotions, graphic design and social media. media.

Meanwhile, children playing learn teamwork. Like their athletic counterparts around the corner at Hinkle Fieldhouse, Butler esports students train, study movies, and play scrimmage to improve their physical and mental dexterity. “Esports doesn’t have the physical aspect that traditional sports have, but it does have the mental aspect that you need to be competitive,” says Matt Hafele, a junior Butler who played baseball in high school and plays now Valoranta game “where precise gunplay meets unique agent abilities”, according to the game’s website.

Developing mental acuity by playing video games proves to be remarkably helpful. Dimitrios Stefanidis, a surgeon and professor of surgery at Indiana University School of Medicine, says there’s evidence that the more video games you play, the better off you are in areas like laparoscopic surgery.

“That’s true in surgery in general,” says Stefanidis, who grew up in Greece and Germany playing Atari video games. “But that’s especially true in laparoscopy because you don’t have your hands there to touch things. You touch with instruments, but from a distance. You have to rely more on hand-eye coordination. That’s a lot of what video games are.

There are statistics that show that more men between the ages of 18 and 25 watch esports than any traditional sport. It’s something I never expected to see. »

Adam Sweeny, Founder of [email protected]

Organized and competitive video gaming at Indiana colleges dates back at least to the 1990s, when brothers Adam and Jonathan Sweeny founded the Indiana University Computer Gaming Club (now called [email protected]). These days, Adam works in the information technology department at IU and Jonathan is a computer scientist at the FBI in Indianapolis. Adam says that in the ’90s — “long before words like ‘esports’ didn’t even exist” — the gaming club was hosting 12-hour events in the Indiana Memorial Union with 30-40 attendees.

IU never fully embraced the game like other colleges and universities in Indiana did, but Adam’s experience helped him develop technical skills and build relationships, and at least a dozen former gaming club student officers now have tech-related jobs at the university. “What amazes me about the game now is the range,” he says. “There are statistics out there that show more 18-25 year old men are watching esports than any traditional sport. It’s something I never thought I’d see.”

There may be no better evangelist for college esports than Todd Burris, the 52-year-old coach of GRIZ Gaming at Franklin College. Burris grew up in northern Indiana obsessively playing Nintendo games and had just retired from the insurance business when he saw the ad for an esports trainer. Since being hired in August 2021, the college has converted a former racquetball court into an “arena” — 18 computers meticulously lined up in two rows of nine, video monitors on the wall, gold and blue lighting — and fielded four teams.

He tells parents: Despite the stereotype of players sitting around all day, the team works with sports trainers and nutritionists. Students do physical activity. They train their bodies to resist carpal tunnel syndrome and back and neck injuries. Their weight training program targets areas that need to be strengthened for cardio. “I don’t want video gamers drinking sodas and eating pizza,” Burris says. “We want to try to monitor what’s going on in their bodies.”

He also wants students, a largely introverted group, to become collaborative team players.

“I want to win, but my program isn’t about the game, it’s about doing well in class and doing well in life,” he says. “I mean, what kind of experience can I give these kids?”

According to James Shelton, a computer and software engineering specialist who came to Franklin from Texas, the experience was great. He founded the college’s jazz band and works for the college’s computer department. After graduating, he wants to become a cybersecurity researcher.

“Before it was there,” Shelton says, pointing to the playing arena, “playing was fun and enjoyable. But when Todd came along, I felt like I was being pushed a lot harder. There was a lot more structure around that.

Not wanting to be outdone, Ball State University has also put together a terrific esports program. Ball State head coach Dan Marino shares a name with the NFL Hall of Fame quarterback. (“And I have that many Super Bowl rings,” he laughs.) Marino’s teams play in a 3,600-square-foot esports center that opened in April 2021, equipped with 36 high-end computers. They also have two simulated auto-racing setups and a full production facility at the back of the room to stream the games. This semester, Marino has his first recruiting class, “full of super talented students who will be playing on different teams to help improve our competitive profile.” He also boasts that Ball State’s broadcast production is one of the best in the conference in terms of quality and consistency. The university has introduced an esports production concentration in its media department, and esports has a partnership with the university’s sports psychology program where graduate students work as performance coaches and help with the mental side of the game. game – how to work in a team, set goals and communicate with each other.

Right now, he says, the biggest challenge facing esports programs is “most of the alumni don’t know what it is. They don’t know the games, and they don’t know how to play them. It’s also hard to find and watch sometimes. But as we graduate more students who know and are passionate about esports, we will have more program support. I really think it will start to rival other college sports.

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