The University of Auckland is eyeing up new academic research opportunities and strengthening student engagement with its newly launched Esports arena.\n\nThe launch comes at an opportune time for the rapidly growing local gaming sector, with the New Zealand government announcing $160 million in last month\u2019s budget to establish a 20% rebate for game developers.\n\nThe global Esports market is valued at just over US$1.38 billion and is predicted to grow exponentially in the next decade.\n\nThe 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.\n\nWhile UoA had ambitions to launch its arena earlier, the pandemic and subsequent supply chain issues delayed the project.\n\nThe 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.\n\nThe university\u2019s chief digital officer, Jason Mangan, credits the efforts from all these teams in bringing the arena to life.\n\n"This truly cross-functional team demonstrated exceptional collaboration and student centricity in the visioning and creation of the university Esports arena,\u201d says Mangan. \u201cTheir 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.\u201d\n\nOne of those driving the project was Sanit Kumar, the university\u2019s infrastructure services portfolio manager.\n\n\u201cThe arena took about six months to build,\u201d he says. \u201cThis 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\u2019re after, and the seating layout.\u201d\n\nKumar says they took a \u201cco-creating with the customer\u201d approach to the build of the arena, and students from the UoA\u2019s Esports Club helped provide feedback on the types of devices and games that would be required.\n\nFuture opportunities for Esports\n\nThe 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.\n\nWith the return to in-person learning, Kumar says they wanted to provide more enticements for students back to campus.\n\n\u201cWe wanted to ensure that we\u2019re 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.\u201d\n\nIt\u2019s also important, he adds, that it\u2019s an inclusive environment that incorporates diversity. \u201c[We are] making a place that\u2019s welcoming for non-gamers to try out playing and potentially unlock the inner gamer in them,\u201d he says. \u201cIt\u2019s also a place that encourages others to come and gain a rich gaming experience. There\u2019s also support for women in gaming as trends have shown that more women are interested in gaming these days.\u201d\n\nAnother benefit the university sees from the arena is to prepare students for potential roles in the gaming industry.\n\n\u201cEsports is a massive industry not only for gamers but for supporting industries such as event management, media broadcasting, game development and creative arts,\u201d he adds. \u201cBy 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.\u201d\n\nThe university is also exploring how they might incorporate Esports into the academic curriculum and research.\n\n\u201cUniversities in the USA and UK are incorporating Esports in academia,\u201d says Kumar. \u201cThere 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.\u201d\n\nThere 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.\n\nUoA has been engaging with several universities, including Waikato and the University of Cincinnati to get ideas of what has and hasn\u2019t 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.\n\n\u201cPhysical 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,\u201d says Kumar. \u201cThere are multiple entry points from which you can come to the arena\u2019s main entrance and our campus security team\u2019s office is opposite on Symonds Street, should they need to intervene quickly.\u201d\n\nThe 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. \n\nLonger-term, the team wants to expand the arena to the new recreation centre that is currently being built next door.\n\n\u201cAt 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,\u201d he says. \u201cIt could also look to host elevated events which otherwise would need to be hosted at facilities such as Trusts Stadium or Spark Arena. We\u2019re already running competitions but we\u2019re 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.\u201d\n\nWith the Esports industry on track to make more money than many other sporting codes, it\u2019s a worthy goal to have.