HENNIKER — New England College treated the public on Thursday to a close encounter of the electronic kind as it unveiled a space-age inspired e-sports arena that will serve as the training and competition space for the institution’s new e-sports league.
E-sports, short for electronic sports, are online multiplayer video games that allow players of varying skills to face off in the same way that traditional sports teams would.
Conceived in large part by NEC’s 25-year-old e-sports coach Tyrelle Appleton, the state-of-the-art arena features acoustic sound-paneled ceiling tiles, performance desk chairs with Bluetooth-enabled speakers built into the headpiece, and top of the line computers by Alienware, a leader in high-performance gaming PCs.
From walls that are designed to look like the cockpit of alien spacecraft to sleek LED light-embossed desks, the arena’s innovative layout reflects inspiration that Appleton says he drew from “Ready Player One,” a science fiction book about a future in which people escape into competitive advanced virtual reality video games.
“This is high tech; this is futuristic,” said Appleton of the new arena. “I wanted to do something that’s different than every other program out there. I’m a 21st-century pilgrim, so I wanted to create a spaceship.”
While NEC budgeted $75,000 for the arena, college officials say the final cost came in at just over $60,000.
Announced last fall by the NEC, the college’s e-sports program is a member of the National Association of Collegiate E-sports, the governing body for collegiate level e-sports.
As members of NACE, NEC payers will have the opportunity to play popular video game titles like “Fortnite,” Overwatch” and “Super Smash Brothers” with students from more than 100 colleges and universities from across the country.
On Thursday, it was announced that NEC had been invited to attend the ESPN E-Sports Open Invitational.
If the team does well at the invitational, Appleton says, players will secure an all-expenses paid trip to compete in the Collegiate E-Sports Championship.
One of those players is Corey Cole, a sophomore game and digital media design major at NEC, who described the arena as “gamer heaven.”
“It’s thrilling, but nerve wracking sometimes,” said Cole of the prospect of playing at the collegiate level for the first time. “I wonder if I’m going to do as well competitively as I do for fun, but I have high hopes.”
Noting her university’s desire to remain “actively engaged from the start” in the emerging field of competitive gaming, NEC president Michele Perkins drew parallels between the skills acquired by e-sports participants and those learned by traditional collegiate athletes.
“Students learn through participating in (e-sports) leagues the same skills and talents as other sports. leadership, communication, perseverance and determination.”
With the hope of recruiting anywhere from 20 to 40 players, Appleton says tryouts for his league will continue throughout next week.