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The old train depot on SUNY Jamestown CC’s Cattaraugus County campus has been turned into an eSports arena. Photo courtesy of Jamestown Community College

OLEAN — The old train depot on SUNY Jamestown Community College’s Cattaraugus County Campus has mostly lain dormant the last four years.

The hustle and bustle of the building’s prior life is on schedule to return this fall, however, with JCC introducing an eSports team that will compete there as part of the National Junior College Athletic Association.

Renovation of the former Dresser Rand Conference & Training Center that housed JCC’s Workforce Development is nearly complete. Starting in the spring, the building received new paint, carpeting, LED lighting, and electrical and Wi-Fi upgrades to handle the computer load that eSports gaming requires.

The area was also recently outfitted with modern and “interesting-looking furniture that is not your average institutional-looking furniture,” said Kyle Brown, JCC’s executive director of technology.

JCC partnered with Esport Supply, the official technology partner of the National Association of Collegiate Esports, to equip the building for competitive gaming.

The old train depot on SUNY Jamestown CC’s Cattaraugus County campus has been turned into an eSports arena. Photo courtesy of Jamestown Community College

“One of the things they shared with us is that they never built one this big,” said George Sisson, JCC’s director of athletics and recreation. “Most teams are crammed into a small computer lab. I would say that we might not be a Cadillac, but we’re pretty close.”

The facility will be dedicated entirely to eSports. It features a spacious stadium for official competitions, a coach’s office, a meeting room with six computers, a whiteboard and overhead projector screen, an activity space with console games, televisions, and a refreshments area, a reception area, and storage.

The main feature of the building is the stadium, which has an elevated ceiling and a mezzanine area above for spectator viewing.

Joshua Reed, an eSports adviser for Erie 2-Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES, toured the facility with three other area high school advisers in June.

“It’s going to be an incredible program,” Reed said. “I think it will definitely draw people in. I think the students are going to want a part of that.”

When asked about JCC’s stadium, Reed said that most high school teams compete in classrooms or latch onto computer labs when they are available. His team of him plays on four computers set up in the cafeteria at the Ashville BOCES location.

“Right now,” he said, “it’s wherever we can get our own space for our kids to play. Seeing the (Cattaraugus County) campus and everything they have going on, it’s the mecca of everything.”

Brown said the building will be the home to two dozen high-end gaming computers when the last of them is installed in August.

“From talking to different people who do eSports and gaming, we as a college are dedicating significantly more space to this than most any other college does,” Brown said. “Even big schools. It’s pretty cool for what that is.”

JCC is seeking an eSports coach and an athletic coordinator for the Cattaraugus County Campus to help oversee the program and manage the stadium, said Paula Snyder, the Cattaraugus County Campus executive director.

Sisson informed that it will take time to build eSports at JCC, “but we’ve built something really special. Now, we’ve got to make it work.”

The addition of the stadium and an intercollegiate eSports team is JCC’s second step of three to implement gaming into its offerings.

The first phase was the addition of eSports gaming clubs on the Jamestown and Cattaraugus County campuses that competed against fellow SUNY students and in other tournament events during the 2021-22 school year.

The final phase is to introduce an eSports academic program that focuses on the business and marketing aspects of the growing industry.

“We thought it made sense to move into the eSports arena,” said Daniel DeMarte, JCC’s president. “It perhaps serves another purpose for us in terms of recruiting students. A student might come initially because they want to play … and they end up staying and finishing their education.”

A potential pipeline of competitive eSports gamers is forming at local high schools. Nineteen schools, and BOCES in Ashville, Cattaraugus and Fredonia are listed as National American Scholastic Esports Federation members.

“There could be a natural progression from high school to here,” DeMarte said.

“Most schools in the area have a team,” Reed added. “There was a big push for it prior to COVID. Students were able to play remotely, which could happen during that time.”

Cattaraugus-Allegany BOCES joined NASEF, the national eSports federation, in the summer of 2020. Though it’s been slow to build, member school districts at Cuba-Rushford and Salamanca have had had teams compete nationally, said BOCES adviser Mark Beckwith.

“When CA BOCES was introduced to NASEF,” Beckwith said, “we caught a glimpse of the potential for how impactful an eSports program could be.

“For comparison,” I have added, “Just like the vision for VEX is to use robotics as a means for teaching STEM and soft skills, the vision at NASEF is to use eSports to accomplish those same goals. Gaming isn’t the end result. It is the tool that students use in order to learn and demonstrate problem-solving skills, effective communication, and more.”

Reed has seen eSports provide a sense of belonging to students who might not otherwise participate in extracurricular activities. He said it also helps students with attendance, responsibility, and making friends.

“A lot of people love their video games,” Reed said. “But to be able to compete for your school as a sport, it’s very new to everyone. If you don’t want to do the basketball or the football and it’s just not your avenue, then you have an incredible opportunity to play video games and be on a team, and compete for a school that you love.”

While JCC’s team is set to compete in fall and spring seasons, Sisson said there is potential to bring regional high school eSports tournaments and championship events to campus.

“Our hope is to start to host high school events,” he said. “That will bring foot traffic onto campus and show people what we have to offer in terms of educational opportunities in Cattaraugus County along with eSports.”

JCC is seeking students to join its eSports team. For more information, contact Sisson at 716-338-1269 or GeorgeSisson@mail.sunyjcc.edu.

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