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Esports Living Lab funding, opening delayed

Originally set to open in spring 2022, the opening of the Esports Living Lab was delayed as funding for the project awaits approval. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

USF Esports’ original plans of creating an in-person space, the Living Lab, has been delayed. The space is expected to be available by August, but this date remains uncertain due to the amount of funding needed for the construction process.

In September, Assistant Director of the Esports program Antonio Gonzalez said the extension of the Recreation and Wellness Center was initially expected to open in spring 2022.

“We wanted to be very cautious about hyping up the space until we knew that everything was in place and there was no chance of us disappointing students with false timelines or being unable to complete the project,” Gonzalez said in a Sep. 21 Oracle article

“This is as sure as we have ever been and we are excited to see this project come to fruition.”

The setback has been attributed to the project’s funding, provided by the Capital Improvement Trust Fund (CITF). The project initially applied for funding for the space in 2018 through the Tech Fee, but this was abandoned in summer 2021 when the project was approved for CITF. 

“The funding from the state was delayed to a certain extent … It takes time for that process to go through, because of the fact that it wasn’t an internally funded source,” Gonzalez said.

The funding, currently an estimated $368,000, will be used to organize 40 PCs in a space for casual and competitive gaming, watch parties and content creation. The 2,500-square-foot space will become part of the Rec. 

To supplement the funds provided by the CITF, Gonzalez said he has been looking into sponsorships from other businesses, such as those involved in gaming. This includes companies for software, hardware and the gaming community in Tampa as well as on an international level. 

Renderings of the space are currently being created, and will likely be available by March, according to Gonzalez. At this point, they will be able to move ahead with creating the final plans for the space, which will depend on the final amount of funding that they are able to obtain.

Gonzalez said there was some dismay on behalf of the students due to the delay, since some may not be able to access the space once they graduate.

“Some students have been around for a while that were hoping to see the space online,” he said. “I know students that are graduating this semester that really wish they could see the space.

“I think it’s something that they wanted to see come to fruition because as the program was built during COVID, and as we were coming back to campus, a lot of students were excited to have a physical space to come to and it’s just taken a little bit longer than we would have wanted or anticipated.”

In preparation for the anticipated opening of the location, Esports has been hosting certain events to attract new students, such as an in-person workshop Feb. 26 in the North Gym in the Rec. At the workshop, three clubs for three different video games — DOTA 2, Valorant and League of Legends — will teach students how to play their respective games on PCs. 

This is to introduce students who are already part of the gaming community to new games, or to teach the basics to those who have never gamed before. 

Hassan Najam, freshmen computer science major and president of the Halo Club, conveyed his excitement for the opening, and the opportunities it offers.

“I’m sure that for all the Esports Clubs and fans of different game franchises, having an in-person place on campus will foster an environment that allows people to discover new interests, whether that be competing in certain games or discovering new games for the first time,” Najam said. 

To access as many students as possible, Gonzalez said the Esports program has been reaching out to other student organizations that are commonly associated with gaming, such as cosplay groups.

“We’re looking for students who are just trying to learn more about the community,” Gonzalez said. “[We’re] just reaching out to some of these other areas where there are definitely overlaps with gaming communities.”

The Esports program will also be hosting an in-person local area network event, also in the North Gym. This event will be similar to an in-person tournament, where any student can play the available games.

“[Students can] compete for possibly cool merch of USF and bragging rights. This also ties in getting the space ready for in-person tournaments, and possibly hosting and broadcasting the games on our USF channel,” Esports Supervisor for the space Kevin Castillo said.

The Lab represents part of the program’s progression toward fame in the Esports community, including on the collegiate level. 

“We want USF to be one of the best colleges in the state to play for,” Castillo said. “We are miles away from that happening but this space will be a huge step into making that dream happen.”