Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Campus Rec Adds Esports

Back in the day, when Penn State students wanted a break from the rigors of course work, they’d stroll down to the (now-long-gone) Playland arcade with a roll of quarters, drop some coins in their favorite video game, and let the stress wash away.

Times have changed.

Today, students can head to the Mary B. White Building and the new on-campus Esports Center. It opened the first day of the fall semester, August 21. The facility was designed by engineering and architectural firm HOK.

Steve Kampf, the senior director of campus recreation at Penn State, says the Esports Center is state-of-the-art.

“It’s a 3,000-square-foot facility with fifty-five gaming monitors set up,” Kampf explains. “We have the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, and Xbox available as well.”

According to Kampf, Campus Recreation has partnered with Esports Supply, GGCircuit, AVI-SPL, Student Affairs Information Technology, and Enterprise Network and Communication Services to provide a myriad of options for students.

Three television screens are available for gaming via Playstation 5, Xbox X, and Nintendo Switch. (Photo by Tyler Thompson)

There are computers, software networking, and audio-visual solutions to create an immersive gaming experience, including gaming consoles, headphones, and lighting. The facility can accommodate up to sixty individuals at a time.

“The gaming stations are for those who play esports games via a PC. The majority of students are now doing that versus playing the consoles,” Kampf says. “Games on the PC are more popular. These are games people are playing against people around the world. It’s a very competitive atmosphere that you really don’t know about because the person sits there with headphones on playing a game against somebody else.”

College campuses across the country have been adding esports centers. Penn State has joined the party.

“It’s new to campus, but students in that age group have been playing these games since they were young,” Kampf says.

He remembers the early days of Atari, Intellivision, and Sega Genesis. The graphics have improved just a bit since then, he says jokingly.

“I walk in there sometimes and there is a football game going on the big screen and I would swear it was a live football game,” Kampf says. “It’s really up to date. In the games, if a player is hurt [in real life], they’re hurt [in the game].”

Speaking of games, the FIFA soccer game is the most popular.

“FIFA is the most asked for. We didn’t have that game when we opened up. It was on back order and it showed up two weeks later. It’s very popular,” Kampf says.

Students seem to love the facility. According to Kampf, the feedback has been “very positive.”

“We’re averaging a little under 200 students a day coming through,” he says. 

The Esports Center is open weekdays from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m. Weekend hours vary. Kampf says those hours may be adjusted for the spring semester.

“Most gamers really don’t want the morning hours. They’re more of the night owls,” Kampf says.

The Esports Center draws students of all ages—from freshmen to graduate students. 

“It’s for students who are really good at what they do. They can come in and just jump into a competition,” Kampf says.

The Esports Center gives students another way to de-stress.

“It gives students another opportunity. We’re used to the traditional fitness, weight room atmosphere, pick-up basketball. … Now we have a different clientele we can attract to our facility. I think it’s a different type of student that’s going to use our facility,” Kampf says.

The Esports Center, he says, is another feather in the cap of Penn State’s offerings.

“I think it just adds to our diversity of offerings. It’s more programs for students throughout the university,” Kampf says.

Times are changing and Penn State is keeping up with the competition, so to speak.

“We benchmark against other institutions, particularly the Big Ten, and this is probably top five in the Big Ten,” Kampf says. “You walk into that facility and you just say ‘wow.’ The White Building is one of the older buildings on campus. You walk down the steps to the Esports Center and it’s state-of-the-art. It’s totally different that anything you’d ever see in the White Building.”

Tour groups have been impressed.

“Everybody that I’ve brought though for a tour say, ‘Wow, this is pretty neat.’ They want to come back and check it out again for themselves,” Kampf says.

Penn State students and Campus Recreation members have access to ten hours of PC gaming per week and unlimited console play.

“We do have a limit of ten hours per week, per student,” Kampf says. “We don’t want to have people in there all day, every day. It’s not good for your health, it’s not good for your academics. So, we do put a limit on it.” T&G

Chris Morelli is the managing editor of The Centre County Gazette.