Photo: Students cheering at Niner Esports' Oct. 29 LAN event in the Popp Martin Student Union.
By Wyatt Crosher, Communications Coordinator for Student Affairs
One of UNC Charlotte’s largest sport clubs has earned national recognition.
Niner Esports, the University’s club for both casual gamers and professional gaming teams, is one of 10 finalists for the Esports Collegiate Program of the Year at this year’s Esports Awards.
Voting for the Esports Awards ends on Wednesday, Nov. 30. Anyone with a valid email address is eligible to vote, and the winners will be announced on Dec. 13.
"Being nominated as finalists for the Esports Awards is honestly a dream come true,” Jorge Sanchez, president of Niner Esports, said. “All of our club members are ecstatic to have been nominated after all the hard work we have been putting into our competitive teams, events and community.”
Niner Esports is the only finalist in the category that is entirely student run, with the other nine being varsity esport programs. Sanchez said it can be a demanding task for students to operate a club of this size, but that the group running Niner Esports has managed to
“The officers and community at Niner Esports always go above and beyond all expectations to truly make this a hub for all students to come together, share their passions for gaming and compete at the highest level in all the various esports we are involved in,” Sanchez said.
The club, which has been at Charlotte since 2013, is nominated alongside Boise State University, Maryville University, the University of Hawaii, the University of Warwick, the University of St. Thomas, Illinois State University, Northwood University, Grand Canyon University and Southern University.
“I'm very proud of everyone at Niner Esports for everything that we have accomplished,” Sanchez said. “This nomination is proof that, despite the limited resources we have, we are just as capable, if not more, than a lot of varsity programs around the globe."
In less than a decade on campus, Niner Esports has grown from a few dozen students wanting to play the game “League of Legends” in Barnard to a group with over 2,000 members in the digital communication platform Discord, with hundreds showing up to participate in the group’s in-person Local Area Network (LAN) events in the Popp Martin Student Union (PMSU).
But in the past, there had been some early struggles in trying to get a large mass of students on the same network all in one room.
“We had some growing pains in (PMSU 340) GHI,” Kevin Colwell, Niner Esports advisor, said. “We hooked 100 computers up to their wall outlets and blew the breaker. It's been a couple years now so I'll knock on wood, but we haven't blown any breakers recently.”
While the breakers have stayed strong since, the use of a space not designated for the event does highlight a major work in progress for Niner Esports. The organization hopes to get its own permanent space on campus, with the current plan being to renovate Norm’s Loft in the Popp Martin Student Union.
“We want an arena where teams will be able to practice and have a dedicated facility, as well as a space where students can come in and enjoy playing video games together when it's not being used by teams,” Colwell said. “We're looking at room to set up maybe 20 computers, as well as a place for teams to meet and review footage of their practices or their matches, and maybe even a broadcast space for professional broadcasting of esports.”
These plans are underway, and a series of visioning sessions have been held involving students, the Popp Martin Student Union, Facilities Management, space planners and an architect firm. There is no set timeline on when the new space will be completed.
"Norm's Loft was identified as an opportunity because it already exists as the informal gathering place for our student gaming community,” said Morgan Meeham, PMSU executive director. “We want these students to have their own community home in the larger community home on campus. It just made sense to have an opportunity to support one of the largest student groups on campus, as well as help create an enhanced space for newcomers to discover the community.”
Plans for Norm’s Loft include a welcome area, computer stations and a large group viewing screen. The proximity of the space to Norm's Lounge and the movie theater offer additional streaming opportunities for larger audiences.
Learn more about Niner Esports here.