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The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

The Blue Banner

The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

The Blue Banner

UNCA levels up campus experience with new Esports Center

Bryson Rankin
Racing Sims at the UNCA Campus Recreation Esports Center.

The UNCA Esports Center hosted its grand opening this semester. The center boasts a collection of platforms for players to use, including PCs, Nintendo Switches, PlayStation 5s and two Fanatec Sim Racing rigs.

“I was really impressed with the Esports Center,” said sophomore Griff Salyer. “I went to the grand opening and was surprised with just how much there was to use. I was especially impressed with the racing sim setups they had. The staff were really cool and everything was easy to use.”

The Esports Center not only possesses cutting-edge facilities, but also a bustling and growing community, according to Salyer.

“It is a nice place to hang out after class,” Salyer said. “Spending time there is a great way to meet people and make new friends to play games with.”

Salyer said he’s excited for the future of the center and wants to get involved.

“There is a lot of potential in the Esports Center,” Salyer said. “I am sure they will make some more improvements down the line. I would like to get involved in the upcoming tournaments and I am interested in what they have got coming up.”

University faculty is also noticing this growing interest among students, according to the Chair and Associate Professor of New Media Victoria Bradbury.

“Esports is an increasingly popular arena for student life across college campuses,” Bradbury said. “It provides a way for students who are particularly interested in video games to socialize with students who have like interests, but also to explore new games that they might not already have access to – all in a safe and well supported environment.”

Community and fun are not the only benefits of having this new resource on campus. Dr. Bradbury teaches UNCA’s virtual reality class, alternating with Computer Science faculty member Kenneth Bogert and she can see the facility being used for educational purposes.

 “The same goes for research. When faculty incorporate virtual reality or other game modalities in their research, user testing is an important part of the process that teaches them how people can use their games and what improvements can be made,” Bradbury said. 

Bradburry said game makers play games in order to learn about tropes, narrative conventions, animation techniques and gameplay scenarios for their ideation and research process.

“A facility such as the Esports Center at UNCA could provide a space for play testing research-based games with students and others that could help with faculty and undergraduate research,” Bradbury said.

Assistant Director of Sports and Esports Nicholas Braylan elaborates on the sense of community the center promotes.

”The motivation was to give students who were already gaming a public space to game that wasn’t their room and to get people from different majors, focus of study and extracurriculars a place to gather and spend time together,” Braylan said.

Students enjoying the Esports Center. (Bryson Rankin)

Braylan says that the center is an inclusive space where all types of students can gather, no matter the skill level or any affiliation. He speaks on how the already accepting nature of UNCA helps to promote this.

”We have the Game Changers club, for women and gender-diverse people, who come to play comfortably in a space without any external noise. It is a great way for people in those groups to have a platform and come together. Hopefully it paves the way for other clubs to come here,” Braylan said.

Braylan says to get involved, students should join the Esports Center’s discord. He further elaborates on how clubs and students alike can get involved.

”If you are a club sponsor, get your club in here and get them interested. Come to the center and find out what we do. We can tell anybody, no matter how little you know about esports or gaming, what it is about. If you do play games, find out what we are playing and volunteer as a coach.

Braylan speaks on the type of events that can be held to increase student involvement.

”I want to do Mario Kart tournaments, racing sim competitions and time trials, Among Us sessions, Overcooked tournaments, there are a million things I would like to do to get students involved,” Braylan said.

According to Braylan, the center is a massive draw to current and prospective students alike.

”I have heard people who have said that they want to transfer and are staying for esports. I have talked to middle and high schoolers in Asheville and the surrounding area that want to come to UNCA specifically to play in esports. We will be able to not only recruit new students, but also retain those who have wanted to play or want to keep playing. One of our Overwatch players has expressed interest in staying for their Masters and continuing their education so they can keep playing,” Braylan said.

According to Braylan, there are several teams for different games available and they are ready to compete. Games that currently have teams are Overwatch, Valorant, Smash, Rocket League and League of Legends.

”My number one short term goal is to be competing in national and regional associations and conferences, such as the NACE, NECC and the ECAC. We are a part of the Big South, so we are D1 in esports as well. I want to compete, develop our esports teams, build a community and give students the feeling of representing and being a part of the University,” Braylan said.

Braylan says he sees a bright future for the Esports Center at UNCA.

”We’ve only just gotten started. This will be as big as I can make it. I am focusing esports to be competitive and to build community and to provide students who want to game a place where they can do anything they want. The sky’s the limit,” Braylan said.

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