The University of Waikato has made New Zealand history by launching the first university-based esports facility, the OMEN Esports Arena.
Retrofitted with high-end gaming computers, gaming chairs and a big screen TV for game streaming and console gaming, the esports arena serves as a dedicated space for on-campus gaming enthusiasts.
The University teamed up with sponsors OMEN, HP’S gaming and esports brand who supplied 12 top-of-the-line gaming computers, and PB Tech, New Zealand’s largest IT and computer retailer who supplied the big screen TV as well as partial sponsorship of the DX Racer gaming chairs.
Mike Calvert, Director of Student Services at Waikato University, says the OMEN Esports Arena fits with the university’s direction of providing opportunities in a sport that, according to PwC’s 2018 Sports Survey report, has the highest potential to grow revenues globally.
“Esports is a global phenomenon and is one of the fastest growing industries,” says Calvert. “With more than a million participants in New Zealand, and more than 300 million participants worldwide, it makes sense from a strategic perspective to move into this space,” he says.
“We want to be able to give our students, who are likely to be engaging in esports anyway, an opportunity to be part of this in a socially inclusive environment where they can participate with like-minded people and, eventually, segue into future opportunities in esports."
“It’s also an opportunity to link academic research and esports together, which is something we’re developing at the moment.”
Calvert says although people may have concerns around violence and gaming, and the potential effect gaming may have on study input, they’re confident in how they’ve managed to mitigate these risks.
“Violence in esports is something we’ve put careful consideration into. This is why we only offer a certain catalogue of games in the arena. We’re also aware of the risks associated with gaming and the effect that could have on student’s study, which is why we expect a certain level of academic achievement from those who are part of the esports team.”
Jason Spiller, Marketing Manager for Gaming, Esports & Immersive Technologies at HP, says the OMEN Esports arena is providing a new opportunity for the region.
“Esports is growing. It’s not only growing as a career option for those wanting to turn pro, but it’s growing in a myriad of other ways. From future careers and game development, to coding and tournament operations, there are so many other aspects that go into what is now a massive industry.”
“In an age of growing digital isolation, gaming and esports are one of best ways to provide identity and community to students and the OMEN Esports Arena provides a place to foster those connections,” says Spiller.
Business Development Manager for PB Tech Central North Island Brian White says the university’s commitment to opening an esports arena shows competitive gaming can be more than just a hobby.
“One billion dollars is the estimated revenue generated by esports world-wide in 2019,” he says. “For a major university to be so involved with development pathways and scholarships for competitive gaming is just amazing."
"People are still of the opinion that gamers are the nerds in the corner who have no social skills, doing something that won’t take you anywhere in life. But this initiative is a step towards showing people that esports can lead to many opportunities in a billion dollar industry.”
As part of the arena, the University of Waikato offers a school-leaver scholarship for students who excel in esports. The 2degrees Esports Scholarship for School-Leavers awards $5000 to students who demonstrate excellence in esports, exhibit leadership experience or potential, and who carry values in health and wellbeing.
This year’s scholarship recipient, Ryan Holt, says the esports scholarship has allowed him to combine his passion for video games with his love of a challenge.
“Esports is a new and emerging field – the viewership is steadily climbing and the financial backing is growing, so it’s great to see the University of Waikato leading the way in this exciting industry.”