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Michigan State’s Growth In E-Sports Clubs Mirrors National Collegiate Trend

Marissa Chupp

But MSU’s growth could stall if a solution is not found for tight space like other universities such as Ohio State and Western Michigan are building. 

EAST LANSING, Mich. – As the popularity of e-sports is exploding across the country, more opportunities for competitive video games are popping up at high schools, colleges, and professionally.

Michigan State is part of the global trend, with a growing and strong e-sports community. There are at least 13 official clubs on campus, with three starting this school year.

The popularity is bringing challenges, as there is not enough space at MSU to fit in all the clubs. The E-sports Student Association is in charge of the clubs, helping with oversight, funding, scheduling and promoting MSU’s student e-sports.

As of right now, most of the clubs and teams share a single room in the Communication Arts and Sciences building. This creates some logistical issues when trying to get the clubs the time they need, while also allowing the classes access to the classroom.

Ideally, MSU would create or build a dedicated space for e-sports, as is being done by other universities. There was growing support from MSU’s top administration, but things have changed with the departures of former Athletic Director Mark Hollis and President Lou Anna K. Simon.

“Our previous athletic director (Mark Hollis) helped fund our first batch of jerseys for all of our competitive teams,” said Joseph Lewis, the president of the MSU E-sports Student Association. “That was about 55-60 jerseys that athletics bought for us and our players. They were in talks to get us money from club sports and getting us our own space and then the situation (Nassar scandal) took place and now he (Hollis) is gone and that set us back.”

Western Michigan recently took a step forward in the e-sports facilities race, becoming the first university to open a video game arena on its campus. The building, which used to be The Little Theater, has been transformed into a state-of-the-art gaming facility. After $500,000 in renovations, the arena for business in October. The facility has 36 gaming stations, with 12 designated for competition, and the rest are available for practice.

Credit Marissa Chupp

The facility sets the stage for the future growth of e-sports throughout the state. If Michigan State were to invest in this kind of facility, it could make the university a serious player in e-sports not just in the state, but in the region as well.

The clubs and the team are looking to get back to the progress they had made towards a facility like that under the previous administration.

Lewis said that the ESA is working with their faculty representatives to try and secure a meeting with Athletic Director Bill Beekman to discuss the future of MSU e-sports and share how important a dedicated space would be for the entire university.

MSU can also look to the south, at Ohio State, to see what their Big Ten competition is building.

The Buckeyes have launched a comprehensive e-sports program,  initiated by the university.

“The campus-wide collaboration brings together academics, collegiate competition, and multi-disciplinary research to give students as many opportunities as possible to be a part of the booming industry,” wrote Alexis Shaw, in an article on news.osu.edu about the program.

Credit Marissa Chupp
The Western Michigan University e-sports facility has 36 gaming stations.

The program focus on more than just the athletic component is unique, and a model which college administrations may be more receptive to than just e-sports alone. It also provides opportunities beyond just the competitors, combining e-sports competition with academic programs in a multitude of fields.

If MSU wants to move up in e-sports, it could look to alumni Dan Gilbert, who owns the Cleveland Cavaliers, Quicken Loans and the e-sports organizations 100 Thieves. Or another possible MSU source of funding for an e-sports facility would be sponsors that already partner with the university.

“We do have a partnership with Dell and Alienware,” said Lewis. “That’s how we got the computers in (ComArtSci room) 154 at near wholesale prices. I am also responsible for reaching out to other companies; I’ve talked to Western Digital, Corsair, and Cooler Master and they are all ready to make the jump. We get stuff every time we have an event. We get keyboards, mice, and headsets shipped to us to give away for free. Having the backing of the University to go out and ask for things from these corporate sponsors would be an easy sell.”

Competitive e-sports have moved beyond the professional and collegiate ranks, with steady growth at the high school level. In Michigan, the TV show “State Champs!” is hosting e-sports competitions in coordination with Lawrence Tech University.

MSU currently hosts the state championships for high school basketball and could host e-sports championships as well if a facility were to be built. The central location of MSU makes it an ideal host site.

Credit Trevor Toczydlowski

“It would mean literally everything (to have a space of our own),” said Lewis, Evan Olzem, Carter Prost, and John Estapa. Olzem, Prost, and Estapa respectively represent the League of Legends, Smash 4, and StarCraft II clubs.

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