Butler Esports will be hosting the Big East Championship next month. Photo by Eli Kohn.
ALLIE MCKIBBEN | STAFF REPORTER | email@example.com
Butler University Esports will host the Big East Championships from March 24-25. This marks a milestone in the development of the esports program and for the Esports Park.
Nathan Duke, manager of the esports programs and facility operations, said the Esports Park is one of the best places to host the Championship in the country.
“We’ve got a full production studio in the back that’s capable of doing linear-quality shows,” Duke said. “We also have the ability to do overflow seating out on the sidewalk, as well as video feed and audio feeds out on the patio. We can completely rearrange our setup to have more seating for spectators, and our lounge area will be opened up so that we can have access to concessions as well as some casual space.”
The Championship will be broadcasted on Electronic Gaming Federation, EGF, channel and streamed on Twitch.
Duke also said that the opportunity to gather for big gaming events, like the Big East Championship, means a lot to esports players, who are limited to competing in a virtual setting.
“For the students to be head-to-head and be in the space together is something that we’re trying to install more of in esports,” Duke said. “It’s a very virtual ecosystem, and the big events have been missing since the COVID-era, so it’s really exciting to see those come back.”
Levi Hrabos, a senior biochemistry major and varsity player for League of Legends, said he is excited for the Championship to bring the esports community together.
“It’s really cool to see that they’re having the playoffs in person at Butler,” Hrabos said. “It’s going to be beneficial for us to be able to play in person here at the park and actually see the people we play against. We have a bunch of people that we’ve gotten to be friends with online, and we’re going to finally get to meet them.”
The Big East will host nine teams to battle in League of Legends and four teams to battle in Rocket League over the two days of competition. Last year, Seton Hall University won both esports competitions. Hrabos said Butler has a great chance of sweeping the Big East Championship this year.
“I’ve told the team that if we don’t win [the Championship], this season’s a failure in my eyes,” Hrabos said. “We are undefeated in our Aegis league, and then we are one-one in the Big East right now, but I don’t think we will drop another game.”
Hrabos said that the esports varsity teams run like any other sports team would; teams practice two or three times per week and compete up to twice each week. Players also engage in “intellectual review” by looking at past games to pinpoint the team’s strengths and weaknesses.
Both Hrabos and Rogers said they have gamers on their teams they call their best friends, and agree that their teammates drive both of them to bring out each other’s competitive sides.
“I’ve been with this program for four years, and we started playing in our dorms,” Rogers said. “Then we had the old esports lounge, but it really wasn’t what we wanted. It was a very hot room in the basement that no one knows. Now, we’re here, in the front and center, and people actually get to see us. It’s nice to have a place that showcases our talent.”
The venue for the upcoming event, the multi-million Esports Park, opened to students and the public in the fall of 2022, complete with 36 high-tech gaming PCs, a lounge and gaming spaces with soft seating, as well as a cafe. Bryan Rogers, a fifth-year energy engineering and economics double major, said that the park has elevated the esports program and given Butler the tools it needs to become a more serious contender in the Big East conference.
The new park is not the only thing the university has done to bring esports business to campus. Three esports companies have formed partnerships with Butler so far, including Challonge and Beastcoast. Last month, the university struck a partnership with SportsTech HQ, a nonprofit based in Indianapolis that works to create a collaborative network of industry partners to assemble all the resources that businesses need in one place. These companies are working together to bring more esports talent to Butler, further pushing the university into the rapidly-growing field.
Eric Kammeyer, director of sports and gaming technology, said that the esports program has big plans to draw in an inclusive audience. Kammeyer said he would love to welcome the Indianapolis community to the park, and is working on developing partnerships with the Martin Luther King Center and Veteran’s Administration Medical Center, among others. Butler Esports also wants to offer high school programs for teens after school to come practice and compete in their facilities starting next year.
As for incoming Butler students, the program has plans to implement scholarships to offer potential varsity athletes. Kammeyer said the next generation of Bulldogs is interested in gaming, but he believes the program will also draw in students with a diverse set of interests beyond esports.
“The ability to be able to use this [program] as a mechanism to teach broadcasting, camerawork, marketing graphics … we have it here right now, and that will increase Butler’s ability to be able to land high school students that have a passion in the space,” Kammeyer said.
In addition to hosting the Big East Tournament next month, Kammeyer said the Butler Esports Park will be hosting an upcoming national tournament at the end of April.