W&M opens new Esports Training and Research Center

Continuing its tradition of innovation and discovery, William & Mary celebrated the opening of its Esports Training and Research Center on Thursday.

The Esports Training and Research Center (ETARC) will serve as both an interdisciplinary research lab, connecting students to research and internship opportunities, and a training facility to host competitive gaming tournaments. Esports — or electronic sports — encompasses a variety of competitive video games.

The coursework and research opportunities afforded by ETARC will focus on a number of interrelated disciplines and topics, including the potential of games for learning, the health and wellness of student gamers, diversity and inclusion in gaming, narrative development in game design, data science, computer science, and marketing.

“As educators, we have a responsibility to provide students access to the world’s emerging industries,” said Provost Peggy Agouris. “The interdisciplinary nature of our approach will serve our students as lifelong learners and earners.”

The event recognized the 34 student gamers who represent William & Mary by competing on the national stage and their six coaches.

The ETARC is designed to provide students with a space to build community with others who share their passions. As Tyler Standfield, ‘21 shared, the esports initiative “is not some overnight phenomenon, we’ve all been playing games for so long and simply needed a structured environment to compete in.”

The center is unique in that it offers a truly interdisciplinary approach to academic and applied program development. From the beginning, student voice has been instrumental in the design of the programming. Seven W&M students known as Esports Pioneers have served as valuable thought partners to the many faculty and staff involved in the project, said Michele King, director of Esports at William & Mary and chair of the Esports Advisory Board.

The program offered the university’s first-ever “Introduction to Esports” course during the Winter 2020 term. An Esports Level-Up program will begin in the 2021 summer term and will offer such courses as esports in education and esports in communication. Chai Hibbert, ‘22 added that “William & Mary students often desire an experience that melds what we like to do with what we're already learning, and as a top research university, it's only right for a program as expansive as esports to emerge.”

Through a partnership with the Electronic Gaming Federation, the nation’s leading collegiate esports governing body, William & Mary student gamers have also competed at the national level in esports tournaments. Tim Cho ’22 shared his enthusiasm for the team’s accomplishments over the past year.

“Our teams have done incredibly well adjusting to a high level of play in the short time we had to prepare for the season,” he said. “Many of the programs we faced had been established for several seasons and have had the luxury of building team synergy for months, if not years ahead of us.”

In 2019, a University Teaching & Learning Project team emerged from W&M’s Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation and launched a task force, later renamed the Esports Advisory Board (EAB), to explore esports both as an academic and applied gaming program.

The ETARC is the culmination of over two years of work led by the EAB, a group of faculty and staff from across the university, who are responsible for developing esports academic programming and managing the competitive esports team.

The esports academic and research initiative is the result of a cross-campus collaboration, with representation from Arts & Sciences, the Raymond A. Mason School of Business, Information Technology, and the School of Education. The EAB continues to work closely with the Esports Faculty Task Force and Steering Committee to guide the mission of the program.

“Students come to William & Mary for our tradition and stay for their future,” said King. “We are focused squarely on innovation. This program elevates the best of all disciplines to shine light on the industry of esports.”