Cal Esports community center officially opens at Foothill housing complex

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Lawrence Zhao/Staff

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As the class of 2022 begins to settle into its first semester at Cal, most eyes are set on the modern and chic Blackwell Hall. The newly constructed freshman residence hall can’t be missed when walking on Bancroft Avenue. At the base of the Berkeley Hills, though, is another new facility on campus that may be slightly easier to overlook.

On Saturday, Aug. 18, the Cal Esports program held the opening ceremony for the new Esports Community Center, located in the Foothill housing complex. While not much has changed on the outside, the inside of what used to be the underutilized Foothill Academic Center has undergone a drastic remodel. The room now looks more like a high-tech computer lab, housing 52 gaming PCs.

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The project has been in the works for about a year, moving at light-speed pace by Cal’s standards. It all started last fall, when the Cal Esports program officially became a part of Cal Rec Sports, setting the precedent for a campus esports facility that would serve as home base for the program and its competitive teams.

Since then, Cal Esports has found several sponsors to support both the facility and the program. Back in April, the program announced a partnership with the San Francisco-based esports organization NRG eSports and its Overwatch League team, San Francisco Shock, to provide funding for the initial renovations of the space, becoming the first sports team at Cal to ever land a sponsorship from a professional sports organization.

After that, Cal Esports partnered with the graphics card company Nvidia and the computer hardware and peripherals company Corsair to provide the equipment for each of the 52 gaming stations. Each computer shows off a green “GeForce GTX” logo, representing Nvidia’s primary product line, and comes with a mouse, keyboard, and mouse pad from Corsair. The community center is also lined with a series of Corsair gaming chairs that make you feel like Captain Kirk on the USS Enterprise.

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Last, but not least, Cal Esports worked with League of Legends developer Riot Games to provide additional support for its competitive players. As was announced previously, Riot has agreed to provide scholarships for the University League of Legends team at Cal as well as establish an Intramural League of Legends that will mirror the setup of traditional intramural sports at Cal.

Representatives from each sponsor, including three San Francisco Shock players, attended the opening ceremony, along with students who have worked tirelessly over the past several years to not only make the esports community center a reality, but to build the esports community as a whole. Attendees had the chance to walk around, take in the facility and play some games on the new computers.

Naturally, Cal Esports plans to use the space to host tryouts, practices and matches for its competitive teams as the program seeks to defend its national championships in Overwatch and Starcraft II, look for its second championships in Dota 2 and Heroes of the Storm and win its first championships in League of Legends, Hearthstone and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

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More importantly, though, the facility is a community center, so the program plans to allow the gaming clubs on campus such as Berkeley Legends and Gaming at Berkeley to host events in the space. The program also hopes that gaming-related DeCals and courses that require high-end computers will be interested in using the space. There will be time set aside for the space to be open to the public, too, starting Aug. 27.

While the Esports Community Center may not be as large a project as Blackwell Hall was in terms of scale, it represents a significant cultural shift. With the completion of Caltopia this past weekend, which in and of itself has a powerful gaming presence, there appears to be a legitimization of esports and gaming at Cal.

Lawrence Zhao covers esports. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @CelticsWpn