Durham’s entering the esports era

Michael Cameron, the organizer of the esports team at Durham College, standing in front of the varsity section in the former E.P. Taylor's pub. Photo credit: Dakota Evans

A new plan has been drafted for Durham College’s (DC) iconic pub, E.P. Taylor’s – but this one doesn’t involve slinging drinks.

The pub, which has not been fully functional the past couple of years, is being converted into the second largest video game arena among colleges in North America, behind only the University of California, Irvine (UCI).

Construction is still ongoing, but when it opens the esports complex will have 60 high-end gaming computers, 12 fewer than UCI.

The as yet unnamed esports facility will be at the forefront of a wide-range of DC programming which will integrate college students, faculty and a varsity esports team.

Officials are hoping the facility will open by December, no later than January.

Michael Cameron, a computer systems professor at Durham and a syndicated video game journalist, is leading the esports mission and Bill Ai is DC’s general manager of the varsity esports teams.

“Our process is relatively simple. We are pushing certain requirements for every single game. We’re offering on our varsity Lords team like how we would any traditional sport,” said Ai.

DC will recruit players who will be trying out for the games the arena plans to offer, including Counter Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm, Overwatch, Hearthstone and Rocket League, Ai said.

“Student-driven but faculty managed,” said Cameron.

The world’s a different place now, according to Cameron. The arena will not just be a place for students to go and hang out to play video games. It is a place to include video games into experiential learning. Cameron wants to integrate esports into a larger learning environment.

“[DC has] a marketing program. Well, guess what? I have a varsity team that will need to be marketed. We have a project marketing program and I have projects. We have an event management program, and we plan to have weekend tournaments or summer long boot camps,” Cameron explained.

He said IT students will be in the arena to provide maintenance to the computers and journalism students will be able to appear on-air to broadcast the events.

“Another thing we want to have is content creation. We want to have video cameras, so you can use the high-speed internet from here and create content,” he said. “How do you create YouTube content? How do you livestream to Twitch? We want to integrate it with the Global Class as well so we can have international panels on esports or academics.”

Durham has “a good vision,” he says and expects the program to grow with the future of the college.

DC is one of only three schools in Canada to offer esports programming, along with Lambton and St. Clair.

“The college circuit for esports only addresses certain games, but Battle Royale games like Fortnite and PUBG (Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds) are coming in,” said Cameron. “They put a lot of money behind them and those are very dramatic games to watch. There is one definitive winner in those.”

Varsity members will be required to study the recorded matches they play and study gaming pros, while also representing the Durham Lords by wearing varsity jerseys, Cameron said.

“They’re [the students] expected afterwards to keep up with their studies, they’re a student first. There will be practice and that they meet throughout the week,” said Ai.

Like traditional varsity teams, the students who are recruited are also expected to meet and maintain certain academic goals with their GPAs and be enrolled as full-time students. The teams will be starting their varsity games at the start of October, Ai said.

The arena also plans to have weekly intramurals with plans for local charity tournaments and the opportunity for students who play the video games to win prizes.

Cameron is pleased the college is recognizing the growth of the esports sector.

“There are a lot of jobs,” he said, noting the gaming industry generates more revenue than both the film and music industries. “The revenue for games goes television and movies, the music industry and then video games are higher than both combined,” said Cameron.

He said surveys conducted by UCI show 75 per cent of people identify as ‘gamers’, about half of whom are women, and 50 per cent are 35 and over, he said.