Surrounded by students wearing headphones, fingers flying across keyboards as they held laser focus on their computer screens, President Gayle Hutchinson and Associate Student President Krystal Alverez threw their entire bodies into an epic game of Mario Kart.
As they ducked left and right, leaning deep into every turn, the friendly competitors laughed and gasped as the surrounding crowd cheered them on. For Kendall Ross, Director of Recreational Sports, the grand opening of the university’s new Gaming Lobby showed the potential of the space in a big way.
“This is such a big deal. It’s a great unique space and gives us the opportunity to recruit and retain students with a sense of belonging and new service on campus,” Ross said.
The Gaming Lobby offers PC gaming, console gaming, arcade games, board games and more. Normal hours are Tuesday through Thursday from 2pm to 9pm and students will need their Wildcat ID to access. The entrance is on the Warner Street side of Whitney Hall, up the outside stairs, and next to a giant vinyl sign advertising his presence.
With nearly every game station occupied and dozens of other students watching from the wings, the September 1 grand opening included tours and an exhibition game. The program is led by Recreational Sports, which also oversees the college’s intramural sports, sports clubs, and summer camps for youth.
“A broad group of people coming together because of a love or a curiosity about one thing is beautiful, and having a space to do that is really great,” said sophomore Bennie Ksiazek, a computer animation and game development major, noting that more over 170 people listened to the grand opening livestream on Twitch. “It makes gaming on campus serious and legitimate. I hope we can continue the hype.”
The presence of the lobby makes Chico State the fifth campus in the CSU to have a dedicated play area. Esports is the fastest growing sport in the world, surpassing the music and music industries combined last year, Ross said.
“Our goal with this space is to create inclusive gaming as a means of alternative wellness,” she said. “We know our students are gaming, especially as it grew in popularity during COVID, and we want the campus to become an option for this hobby and interest.”
Students said it not only supports a positive social atmosphere and sense of community, but it also provides an opportunity to work on skills such as strategy and logic.
“Video games mean different things to different people,” Ksiazek said. “Some people use it to relieve stress. I use it to practice being focused. And it’s another way to meet new people and keep in touch with friends.”
Senior Emily Ramos, a major in education who admitted she’s not an avid gamer, said working as a lobbyist was an enjoyable way to broaden her knowledge and learn a new skill. She found the other students both welcoming and encouraging, and said it’s nice to have another space to recreate on campus.
“Not everyone is interested in going to the WREC,” she said. “This just adds. It’s hard to say ‘Why should we have this?’ Why shouldn’t we?”
Recreational Sports is working with the Computer Animation and Game Department on opportunities to work together and provide students with the best possible service. The Gaming Lobby will also help the Chico State Gaming Club evolve more towards competitive PC gaming. The club currently has about 40 active members, with a further 40 students making occasional appearances at the events and gatherings.
“PC Gaming is often seen as the pinnacle of gaming. It is the most beautiful and intense, and also the most expensive,” says Ksiazek. “So setting up a dedicated space is really great because it makes it more accessible.”
Senior Angel Tapia, a major in the music industry, is excited to now spend time in the lobby between classes, instead of going home. She’s especially looking forward to seeing how Dungeons and Dragons can evolve with such a space in Chico State.
“A lot of people have been waiting for something like this,” added freshman Kadence Simmons, a psychology major. “I’ve heard so many people say, ‘I wish this existed when I was a freshman!’ or ‘Why did they wait to open this until I was about to graduate?’”
Ross expects the space to hold about 45 students at a time, and based on the popularity of other game activities organized, she expects regular attendance to be high.
For more information, visit the Recreational Sports website.