Cathy O'Sullivan
Editor-in-Chief APAC

University of Auckland gears up for Esports opportunities

Jun 12, 20236 mins
Education IndustryEmerging Technology

The university has several driving principles for launching the arena, including increasing student engagement, preparing students for the workforce, and incorporating Esports into the academic curriculum.

The Esports arena at the University of Auckland
Credit: University of Auckland

The University of Auckland is eyeing up new academic research opportunities and strengthening student engagement with its newly launched Esports arena.

The launch comes at an opportune time for the rapidly growing local gaming sector, with the New Zealand government announcing $160 million in last month’s budget to establish a 20% rebate for game developers.

The global Esports market is valued at just over US$1.38 billion and is predicted to grow exponentially in the next decade.

The University of Auckland (UoA) is the second campus in New Zealand to develop an Eports arena. In 2019, the University of Waikato became the first in the country and now offers an Esports minor qualification for students interested in weaving their passion for video games into their chosen field of study.

While UoA had ambitions to launch its arena earlier, the pandemic and subsequent supply chain issues delayed the project.

The teams involved in delivering the arena included digital services, campus life (which looks after all things related to student services), and property services, with support from design and marketing teams as required.

The university’s chief digital officer, Jason Mangan, credits the efforts from all these teams in bringing the arena to life.

“This truly cross-functional team demonstrated exceptional collaboration and student centricity in the visioning and creation of the university Esports arena,” says Mangan. “Their collaborative efforts resulted in a state-of-the-art facility that has revolutionised the gaming landscape on campus, and is delivering a fantastic student experience for those playing on campus and those watching globally.”

One of those driving the project was Sanit Kumar, the university’s infrastructure services portfolio manager.

“The arena took about six months to build,” he says. “This included getting the physical area ready, and getting delivery of the machines and connecting them. Due to global supply chain issues, we faced delays around receiving some of the gaming equipment, but our partner HP assisted to expedite delivery. Aside from the build process, there were multiple planning sessions carried out around the design, machine specifications we’re after, and the seating layout.”

Kumar says they took a “co-creating with the customer” approach to the build of the arena, and students from the UoA’s Esports Club helped provide feedback on the types of devices and games that would be required.

Future opportunities for Esports

The university had several driving principles for setting up an arena, says Kumar, including increasing student engagement, preparing students for the workforce, and incorporating Esports into the academic curriculum.

With the return to in-person learning, Kumar says they wanted to provide more enticements for students back to campus.

“We wanted to ensure that we’re getting the vibe back for an on-campus experience whereby students can hangout with each other, make friends, and have an amazing experience leading to a better environment.”

It’s also important, he adds, that it’s an inclusive environment that incorporates diversity. “[We are] making a place that’s welcoming for non-gamers to try out playing and potentially unlock the inner gamer in them,” he says. “It’s also a place that encourages others to come and gain a rich gaming experience. There’s also support for women in gaming as trends have shown that more women are interested in gaming these days.”

Another benefit the university sees from the arena is to prepare students for potential roles in the gaming industry.

“Esports is a massive industry not only for gamers but for supporting industries such as event management, media broadcasting, game development and creative arts,” he adds. “By creating the arena, the students get a flavour of what it would be like and can explore career opportunities that are beyond traditional roles in the market.”

The university is also exploring how they might incorporate Esports into the academic curriculum and research.

“Universities in the USA and UK are incorporating Esports in academia,” says Kumar. “There are papers around game development and software engineering, so we want to ensure we support and guide our academics in this new era, and at the same time support the students to not only get exposure to the arena but understand the academic aspects of the industry.”

There may be possibilities for research from various disciplines as well, he adds. That could be everything from health science or computer science students doing research on game programming and analysis to creative arts students designing game characters.

UoA has been engaging with several universities, including Waikato and the University of Cincinnati to get ideas of what has and hasn’t worked with their Esports arenas, which has helped cement their approach to setting up the arena currently open eight hours a day, with a view to expand later in the evening.

“Physical access and security were a large consideration that we undertook when choosing the location of the arena, which is in a prime spot of our city campus and a hub to most key faculty buildings,” says Kumar. “There are multiple entry points from which you can come to the arena’s main entrance and our campus security team’s office is opposite on Symonds Street, should they need to intervene quickly.”

The arena, which currently has capacity for 50 users a day, is frequently booked out by students and he adds they have measures to ensure pastoral care is in place especially if a student is spending a lot of time in the arena. 

Longer-term, the team wants to expand the arena to the new recreation centre that is currently being built next door.

“At the moment, the plans for that are still being drawn up but it could be an extension of the current arena, which could largely be our broadcasting and viewing area,” he says. “It could also look to host elevated events which otherwise would need to be hosted at facilities such as Trusts Stadium or Spark Arena. We’re already running competitions but we’re looking at hosting world-class competitions and bringing in famous e-athletes to our shores. UoA believes that it has a full ecosystem to support these competitions.”

With the Esports industry on track to make more money than many other sporting codes, it’s a worthy goal to have.