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New esports lab set to open at Tampa campus soon

After an indefinite delay in November of 2022, a new Esports Living Lab will be available in less than two months, featuring updated equipment that will be free for all students.ORACLE PHOTO/JUSTIN SEECHARAN

The Esports Living Lab (ELL) has been in the works since September 2021, and will finally come to fruition after spring break this semester.

Esports, which are multiplayer video games like League of Legends and Valorant that are typically played competitively, rose in popularity during the pandemic. The lab will allow students to participate in video games with one another in a shared physical space.

The esports program at USF began in the fall of 2020 during COVID-19, intending to bring students together when they could not be physically, according to Andrew Ross, esport program coordinator. 

Related: Temporary esports lab opens at Tampa campus, permanent lab to open fall 2024

The efforts have resulted in 11 esports clubs, 23 competitive esports and the new ELL — all free for students to join.

Avi Kaur, a sophomore majoring in computer science, said he is excited to have an area where he can game with his friends who do not own enough equipment.

“My friends and I usually have to take turns [during matches] using controllers when we play together,” Kaur said. “Having a space that provides controllers for free lets us all play together at the same time.”

The ELL was originally set to open in spring 2022, until its construction was delayed indefinitely in November 2022 due to increased product expenses. The project resumed construction in October 2023.

Related: Esports Living Lab project nearly doubles in cost, indefinitely delayed 

The 2,500-square-foot lab, located at the Campus Recreation Center (REC) in Room 005, will include 40 PCs, two TVs and various consoles, such as Xboxes, PlayStations, Wiis and Nintendo Switches, according to Ross. The temporary esports lab only has 16 PCs in comparison.

The lab cost about $1.1 million with the expenses covering the remodel of the area and the gaming equipment necessary to host as many students as possible. There have been discussions of reserving money each year to save for new equipment every four to five years, according to Ross.

Eric Yang, a junior statistics major, said he is excited to try new consoles he has never played with.

“I’ve never played on a Nintendo Switch before. I can’t wait to see if it’s any good or if I would be interested in getting my own,” Yang said.

The ELL will be divided into three spaces: a recreational area with computers and TVs for all students, a private gaming room exclusively for esports competitions and a broadcasting and production studio for streaming live esports events, Ross said. 

The hours of operation have not been decided, according to Ross.

Facilities can be reserved through the ELL’s booking page, with a maximum of two hours of use per reservation. Two reservations a day are permitted to limit overuse. The reservation method will remain the same when the permanent lab is open, according to Ross.

A concern for the ELL is how to increase the accessibility of esports to all students and allow individuals of all socioeconomic backgrounds to play their favorite games, Ross said.

“That has been a goal of [the esports program] from the very beginning, to break down financial barriers within esports because gaming is not cheap,” Ross said.

Consoles and computers meant for gaming are expensive and not easy to transport for international or out-of-state students. He said an in-person gaming facility offers an opportunity for students who cannot otherwise afford certain consoles or bring them from home to engage in their hobbies.

 The staff of 15 students working for the temporary ELL will move to the permanent location once it opens, according to Ross. The students are in charge of managing online spaces like the esports program’s Discord, broadcasting gaming matches and supervising facilities.

 Ross said the ELL is getting its finishing touches and staff are being trained prior to its opening later this spring.

 “Students will have an opportunity to engage on campus, with their peers in a safe environment and do what they love to do, which is to play video games,” Ross said. “We want it to be a home for those students.”