Saturday, January 28, 2023

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ACC trustees vote to use county capital funds to upfit space for gaming program

Alamance Community College’s trustees voted unanimously Monday night to take the next step to launch a competitive gaming program, or what’s referred to in higher education circles as “E-Sports.”

ACC’s trustees earlier this year voted unanimously, 12-0, to approve the administration’s request to use between $55,000 and $65,000 in institutional funds from bookstore commissions to purchase 15 special computers for the competitive video gaming program.

This week, the trustees voted 11-0 to approve a separate request to use $26,650 in county capital funding to upfit a room in the Main Building on the Graham campus to house the E-sports program. (Trustee Jim Butler, who also serves as Burlington’s mayor, was absent Monday night due to a scheduling conflict.)

Trustee Steve Carter, who also serves as Alamance County commissioners’ vice chairman, asked ACC president Dr. Algie Gatewood Monday night how the E-Sports program might benefit the community college.

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“I think the benefits will be tremendous,” Gatewood told the trustees. He said he’d conducted a study several years ago that looked at the benefits of sports in community colleges, and it indicated that for every enrolled student, “three or four others come” to the college.

Gatewood also said student-athletes tend to have higher grade-point averages than other students, in part because they’re required to maintain a minimum GPA to be eligible to participate in sports.

“Obviously, the retention is much greater,” ACC’s president said Monday night. “The return on investment for an athlete far exceeds that for a non-athlete. That one athlete may generate four or five [full-time equivalent students]. Then, in terms of E-Sports, those students will go through this program and have employable skills.”

In a subsequent interview with The Alamance News, Gatewood acknowledged that ACC will eventually need to hire someone to lead the E-Sports program.

For now, Gatewood told the newspaper that the E-Sports program will be overseen by Josefvon Jones, who currently serves as ACC’s director of diversity, equity, and inclusivity and previously worked for Johnston Community College, which also has an E-Sports program.

Asked what sports he’d examined for the study that he had mentioned to the trustees, Gatewood told the newspaper he’d mainly looked at men’s and women’s basketball at the community college level. “To be clear,” he emphasized, “it was several years ago. It was a blue-ribbon, commission study.” Gatewood said he had done the study for another community college where he had served as college, prior to becoming president at ACC in 2013.

“That’s an expensive endeavor,” Gatewood said in the interview, referring to the cost to launch a traditional sports program such as basketball at the community college level. “E-Sports is relatively inexpensive; moreover, we do not have the facilities – gymnasiums and training rooms, that sort of thing [that would be needed for a traditional sports program].”
For his part, Jones told the trustees Monday night that future graduates of ACC’s E-Sports program would have lucrative career opportunities, which he described as “upward in the six-figure salaries” with jobs ranging from engineers to gaming developers.

Students also would be able to participate in statewide gaming competitions, Jones told the trustees.

ACC students also would have the “opportunity to be involved in these lucrative competitions,” such as one held at the Raleigh Convention Center this past weekend and offered a $1 million prize, Jones said Monday night. (Multiple TV news outlets reported that thousands of competitive gamers from 27 countries turned out Saturday for the 2022 Fortnite Champion Series Invitational tournament, hosted by Cary-based Epic Games, and a shot at a $1 million prize pool.)

ACC following the lead of other N.C. colleges and universities
ACC is following the lead of other higher education institutions that have added E-Sports programs in recent years.

Wake Technical Community College launched an E-Sports program in February 2020, though it also has 10 traditional sports programs, including men’s and women’s basketball and soccer, among others, based on information from Wake Tech.

In addition to Wake Tech and Johnston Community College, several other N.C. community colleges offering E-Sports programs include: Guilford Technical Community College; Cleveland Community College; and Pitt Community College.

A number of UNC System schools also have launched E-Sports programs, including: the state’s flagship public university in Chapel Hill; N.C. State; UNC-Charlotte; and UNC-Wilmington, according to multiple news reports.

There are several regulatory bodies that govern competitive gaming: the National Junior College Athletic Association; the International eSports Federation; the U.S. Esports Association; and the U.S. Esports Association.

ACC officials, however, haven’t yet discussed with the trustees the regulatory framework for the college’s forthcoming E-Sports “intercollegiate athletic program.”

While ACC officials haven’t identified a start date for the program, the college’s trustees were told in June of this year that additional details will be presented to their curriculum committee for discussion and approval.

The trustees subsequently voted 11-0 Monday night to use $26,650 in county capital funding to “upfit” a room in the Main Building (M-230) on the Graham campus to house the E-Sports program.

The upfit consists of: installing new carpet; painting the ceiling black; painting the walls; installing a new door and frame; electrical work and data cabling; installing access controls and a camera; and installing room-darkening shades, based on information that was furnished for the trustees’ discussion.

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