Midland University, the first college in the region to elevate eSports to varsity level competition, unveiled its new eSports Arena Wednesday afternoon.

Located on the third floor of the Olson Student Center, the eSports Arena was especially designed with competition in mind. Warrior eSports team members are able to compete on an elevated level, allowing spectators to follow all the action from below. LED lighting that can be adjusted for optimum viewing of screens has been installed in the three-tier tray ceiling. A “smart board” is available for Head Coach Ben Nabity to map out strategy, released information from the university says.

Overall, there are 20 workstations with 10 set up with dual monitors, allowing team members to follow the action of more than one competition at a time. Each workstation comes equipped with Arozzi gaming chairs, which feature ergonomic design inspired by championship motorsports, and headphones and other gear supplied by Accessory Power.

Midland recently began its second season, competing this year in “League of Legends,” “Overwatch” and “Hearthstone.” There are 21 students on the Warriors eSports roster.

One of the fastest growing collegiate team activities, eSports has been gaining popularity since Midland first introduced it as a varsity level team in 2016. At the time, Midland was one of five colleges across the country to offer athletic scholarships to participants. That number is expected to reach 60 by the end of the year.

One of the biggest stigmas that must be overcome is the belief that eSports is not a real sport. Because while a good deal of the physical components encompassing a traditional sport may not be present; the mental preparation, teamwork, strategy and scouting involved is just as thorough and rigorous as any other sport.

There’s the hours of practice students put into mastering their craft, and contrary to what many believe, hardcore gamers can actually injure themselves competing; acquiring carpal tunnel and tilting; entering a state of actual mental confusion and frustration.

“The games that we play and the games that are chosen and selected for eSports are games that require team play, team coordination, team communication and team discipline,” Nabity said during a Wednesday interview with the Tribune. “And you have to practice all those things in order to be good. And when you are a competitor in any sports, these are things you do with your team.

“I know there is this physical boundary that people have trouble getting by, but in these video games there is this huge mental handicap that you have to get through in order to play these games competitively, and stay competitive, because it really does take an emotional toll on people.”

Nabity said that recruiting for eSports can be a bit tricky. Much of the time he visits high schools and learns about their gaming clubs, and who some of the top-tier gamers are within the program.

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“Every single player that plays one of these games online has statistics that are online, so I can see those stats, so that’s important first and foremost,” Nabity said. “And then I will have them come in and I will have them play with some of my players, and have them (his players) analyze what their decision making is like, how emotional they are during the game, and other stuff like that.”

In the second year of competition, there is still a bit of a learning curve for everybody involved, but eSports is gaining more notoriety and respect, and with a new eSports Arena, the team has a place to call their own.

Sharing what eSports is all about with the Greater Fremont community was exciting for Nabity and his team.

“It’s a huge milestone for Midland University and for eSports as a whole to be able to bring people from this community to the lab and show them that this is real,” he said. “And so being a part of that is just really fantastic.”

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