Today marks the opening of UC Irvine’s groundbreaking esports arena, which is the first of its kind at a public university. The UCI esports arena will provide a recreational place for gamers to play in between classes and an environment for the university’s competitive teams to practice and compete. AnyKey Director of Initiative Morgan Romine is on the UCI esports Board of Advisors, and UCI worked with AnyKey to develop inclusive arena rules and scholarship agreements.  

“I reached out to Morgan as a former pro gamer, as a graduate student of UCI, and as a leader in the movement to make gaming more inclusive,” said UCI Director of Esports Mark Deppe. “We created some priorities around supporting the community and making it as inclusive as we can. One of the things we identified was a code of conduct and an anti-harassment policy that would encourage positive gaming and to communicate that we stand for positivity and inclusivity.”

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Deppe has been working at UCI in student affairs, advising student government leaders, planning campus traditions, events, programs, concerts, and festivals for the last six years. Last summer he was finishing up business school and in a finals class did an analysis of the video game industry.

“It opened my eyes to how big gaming had become and how the competitive scene is this cultural phenomenon,” said Deppe. “I was aware that higher education was largely ignoring this, and I noticed some data points regarding how big UCI’s gaming community was and how successful our students had been competing over the years. The clubs and events our students were organizing were massively supported by industry to the extent that at one of their events in 2015 they gave out $30,000 in cash prizes, which for a student event is kind of crazy.”

Deppe assures that esports is more than just competition. The surrounding program will include scholarships, coaching, competitions, research, media training, diversity training, and even a health component, with one of the board of advisors being a physician who does pediatric exercise research who will consult with UCI’s esports teams.

The arena will also include a shoutcasting station and an internet broadcast area where students can share content and learn about production and streaming. There are plans in the works to put together summer camps to create some gaming opportunities for underrepresented students who are potentially interested in esports to give them access to equipment and coaching at a younger age and create a pipeline of people who, by the time they reach high school and college age, will have had enough training, access, and support to play at a high level.

“If you look around right now at the competitive gaming scene there are very few women and people of color, so I think we hope to be a part of the group that helps open up gaming to more people,” Deppe continued. “I think that comes from talking to faculty and from listening to community members and people of diverse backgrounds to see what they think is the best idea. We have the rules and the code of conduct where we’re going to require our gamers to set an example for how you should communicate in a game and treat everybody with respect. That’s in our scholarship agreement, that’s up on our wall. We also know it’s important to create role models. Half of our board of advisers is female and we’re going to listen to those voices and make sure we have whatever resources are needed and hopefully keep moving toward a more inclusive group.”

“We’re just thankful that AnyKey is aware of us and interested in working with us and just know that we’re hoping to learn as we go and use what we learn to make the world a better place,” Deppe said. “I don’t have all the answers right now, but I’m hoping to be at the table and be a part of the conversation to address some of these things.”

The opening will include a ribbon cutting ceremony with community partners, industry sponsors, senior leaders on campus, and UCI’s undergraduate and graduate student body presidents. The rest of the evening will be a gaming festival. CLG and several of their teams will be present, including CLG Red. There will be free play in the arena with some scheduled tournaments with some of UCI’s competitive players and professional players.

For more information, be sure to follow UCI eSports and AnyKey on social media.