WCC's new esports arena helps students build professional skills, win national gaming competitions

Since its soft launch last spring, Washtenaw Community College's (WCC) esports arena – a dedicated facility for competitive video gaming – has been helping to catapult WCC students into the national spotlight. Two of the school's six esports teams recently reached the National Association of Collegiate Esports League playoffs, and the school is expecting more wins after WCC students try out for winter semester teams Jan. 16-22.

"We've had a lot of good growth in the program," says Matt Lucas, manager for sports at WCC. "We had two teams when the arena space opened and we've grown to six teams now that are playing eight to 10 students per team." 

Short for "electronic sports," esports is a form of highly organized and competitive video gaming that has been gaining public attention and economic viability. The global esports industry was valued at $1.45 billion in 2022. Esports offerings at colleges are not unusual, but dedicated arenas like the one at WCC are. Lucas says WCC has been nurturing its esports program and the arena since before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

WCC's esports equipment has grown from a single screen and a single projector in a classroom to 12 Alienware gaming PCs, two Alienware gaming laptops, two Nintendo Switch consoles, one Playstation 5 console, and one Xbox Series X console. The new arena can be found on the second floor of WCC's Technical and Industrial Building. 

Decked out in WCC's gold and green school colors, it's a place where students can meet up, esports teams can strategize and practice, or groups can gather to watch national esports competitions and related livestream events. Interest has been steady. More than 80 students stop by for free-play opportunities each week, and about 2,000 students interact with the arena each semester. 

Lucas stresses that "there's a lot of good things taught through esports," which is a big reason why WCC staff are excited to lead in the space. Students get unique opportunities to gain skills that dovetail with the college's industry-related academic programs, such as sports and entertainment management, 3D animation in gaming, C++ programming, Java programming, video production, and broadcast arts.

Lucas is looking forward to the upcoming try-outs, where he says prospects will be judged similarly, in some ways, to physical sports athletes.

"How do they reach out and communicate with their teammates? How are they interacting with others? Is this person somebody who potentially could be a leader?" he says. "We're excited to build on what we have and [to make] our teams even better this year." 

Jaishree Drepaul is a freelance writer and editor based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at jaishreeedit@gmail.com.

Photos courtesy of WCC.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.