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Ferris State University’s Esports Arena, the First Purpose-Built Arena of its Kind in Michigan, will Support Booming Esports Athletics and Career Programs

Esports touring

Ferris State University Esports program students tour the Center for Virtual Learning on the Big Rapids campus. Construction on the $32 million facility is concluding ahead of the 2023-24 academic year.

Ferris State University’s dedicated Esports Arena – the first purpose-built esports arena built in Michigan – is already attracting new students interested in competitive gaming, and the careers associated with the growing field.

The arena is the centerpiece of the new $32 million Center for Virtual Learning, which celebrates a grand opening on Thursday, Aug. 31 on the Big Rapids campus.

Esports Coordinator Jono Eaton said the state-of-the-art arena gives production teams enhanced opportunities to gather and present replays during competition and provides space for spectators accommodating 18 participating teams, consistent with the program’s growth goals.

“We will be able to show off our 74 varsity athletes, competing in national collegiate leagues in a manner that was impossible before,” Eaton said. “Our technical capabilities to support producers and directors who head up game broadcasts, along with ‘casters’ who describe the action, take a big leap forward, thanks to the design and outfitting of our arena.”

Esports, short for electronic sports, is a form of competition using video games, with participants squaring off as individuals or teams. More than 240 colleges and universities are fielding esports teams with more than 5,000 student-athletes, according to the National Association of Collegiate Esports, a Kansas City based nonprofit.

Esports Program

Ferris State University Esports program students tour the Center for Virtual Learning on the Big Rapids campus. Construction on the $32 million facility is wrapping ahead of the 2023-24 academic year. Pictured in the middle, pointing, is Jono Eaton, coordinator of the Esports program.

Ferris’ Esports program was organized in 2017, and Eaton said there has been steady growth to reach 500 club members. With the help of assistant Kyle Wilkowksi and a group of dedicated students, Ferris has pushed itself to the forefront of collegiate esports. He sees all aspects of participation continuing that trajectory as this new era begins.

“We had so many recruits who waited for the venue to be built and are coming to Ferris, that includes current online students switching over to study on campus,” said Eaton said, who serves on the NACE Competition Council. “Those learning in Esports Production understand how the arena will accentuate their studies.”

The university began its Bachelor of Science curriculum in Professional Esports Production in Fall 2022. Eaton said Adam Antor, a leading instructor and advocate for Esports on the regional and national scene, will join program chair Varun Singireddy.

“Adam has been a keynote speaker at collegiate esports conventions and chaired the Competition Council for the National Association of Collegiate Esports,” Eaton said. “He returns to West Michigan after advancing from Aquinas College to Florida Southern College and we are so glad to have someone of his stature as part of our team.”

Esports students in front of arena

Pictured are Esports program students posing for a photo inside the future Center for Virtual Learning with the Esports Arena in the background.

Eaton said with an Esports competition Tuesday, Aug. 22, as the arena’s debut event, the push to completion is ahead of them. Final amenities for our facility will arrive in the week beginning Aug. 7.   

“Our goal is to be the top collegiate Esports production site around, and we have made great preparations so our arena is the best it can be,” Eaton said. “We will be ready for and anxiously await the fall and our program’s future there.”

The Center for Virtual Learning will house the Information Security and Intelligence program and the Digital Animation and Game Design curriculum. Also, it will host Digital Media Software Engineering instruction and offices for the School of Education and be home to Esports gaming and facilities.

Click Center for Virtual Learning to learn more about the new project scheduled to be completed by Fall 2023.