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Iowa Universities Respond to Surge in Popularity of E-Sports

More than a year after Iowa State University opened an e-sports gaming room, the facility has seen a spike in popularity, and the University of Iowa is planning its own 2,700-square-foot lounge in the Iowa Memorial Union.

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(TNS) — On a cushy, high-backed couch — shielding them from the outside world and positioning them feet from a large-screen monitor hosting the high-resolution world of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate — Iowa State University juniors Kemdi Achigbu and Takahiro Furukawa were in their element.

Having wrapped up their classes for the day, Achigbu, 20, and Furukawa, 21, last week found refuge in ISU's new Esports and Gaming Room — a space they've been frequenting all year, both for fun and as members of ISU's esports Super Smash Bros. team.

"In the Iowa Smash discord server" — a voice, video and text chat app — "a lot of other people would usually ask for friendlies and they'd say they'd come here to do it, and that's how I found out about it," Achigbu told The Gazette, having paused his practice to answer questions about his discovery of the ISU gaming room.

ISU in February 2021 debuted its 33-desktop esports and gaming space, divided into two areas — a competitive room with 13 computers and an open space with 20. The darkened room also includes four consoles for drop-in use, equipped with PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.

Students can check games out from the room, which has a 37-person capacity, said ISU sophomore Grant DeWaay, 19, who's both a member of the school's Smash Bros. esports team and a front desk assistant.

"The space has really grown throughout the past year," he said. "At first it was really slow because of COVID and such. But I'm happy to see that a lot more people are coming in."

That surge in popularity on college campuses is compelling the University of Iowa to follow suit, planning its debut this fall of an esports lounge in the Iowa Memorial Union.

The UI aims to buy an initial 24 gaming computer systems for the more than 2,700-square-foot lounge planned for the union's ground floor, according to Jamarco Clark, assistant dean of students and director of leadership and engagement.

Using IMU and Student Life development funds, the university is projecting initial costs for developing the space at $190,000, with ongoing annual operating expenses expected of about $55,000, Clark said.

The space will be available for open gaming most of the time — although the UI's multiple esports clubs, which have been active for years, could reserve it occasionally to practice or host tournaments.

"The establishment of an esports lounge will be a first at the UI, but represents an emerging trend in higher education and will provide another engagement opportunity for students," Clark said.

In a request for proposals from potential game system suppliers, UI administrators say they're seeking 27-inch widescreen monitors, gaming mouse, gaming headsets along with setup and installation.

"The university intends to contract with the awarded supplier for not only the initial purchase of the 24 units, but also the capability to purchase additional units should the need arise," according to its request for proposals, which are due back May 23.

At ISU, although its clubs and teams have been in play for years, many players didn't know one another because they had few places to meet and practice. Recruiting was a challenge, as some interested students didn't have the hardware they needed.

In determining the clubs' needs, Jason Vlastaras, ISU rec services associate director for student success, disseminated a survey across campus that revealed three-fourths of students game in some manner "and most play games for a significant amount of time," according to ISU News Service.

©2022 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.