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Construction to begin on new home for UND esports teams

Brian Larson, UND director of construction management, told the Herald that a 1980s conference room will be completely gutted and remodeled to make the high tech facility.

UND_Esports_competition_render.jpg
Artist’s rendering of the UND esports team’s competition room going into Swanson Hall
Contributed / ICON Architectural Group
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GRAND FORKS – Work on a permanent home for UND’s esports teams will soon be underway. Designed by Grand Forks-based ICON Architectural Group, the new space will have multiple rooms for the esports team to train, compete and learn.

A conference room in a corridor connecting Swanson Hall with Memorial Union is being updated to create the new space, according to a recent UND news release.

Brian Larson, UND director of construction management, told the Herald that the 1980s conference room will be completely gutted and remodeled.

“This project is a full fresh start of the space and we’re really going to transform it into an exciting, high-tech, modern esports competition venue that will rival the space that any other university has in the upper Midwest,” he said.

Construction is set to begin on the esports facility this summer, but with supply chain delays, the timeline for completion is uncertain.

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“We’re looking forward to starting construction here later this summer, working throughout the fall and then opening up as soon as we can either at the end of 2022 or early 2023,” he said.

Travis Isbell, director of the esports program, said the construction project will transform the space where the team will train and compete.

“At a lot of colleges building an esports space, they throw 40 computers in a room and slap some paint on it and maybe do some colorful lighting and call it done,” said Isbell. “We’re trying to say no, esports is important to us. We really appreciate how much passion students have for this — so let’s do it right, and let’s make it something that you can get behind and be proud of.”

The esports team currently competes in the Nexus esports facility, at the UND Wellness Center , which is open to all students who want to play video games. Team members also have additional space in the Hyslop Sports Center for practices and team training. Completing the location in the Swanson Hall corridor will bring the team under one roof and free up the Nexus for recreational use by other students.

The new space will be divided into a classroom — a place for athletes to learn and practice, which will also double as a place for visiting teams to compete — and a separate competition space for UND athletes. Rooms along the hallway will be enclosed by a stylized glass wall to give passersby a glimpse into the team’s activities, and Varsity Esports branding will adorn the interior walls.

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Eric Link, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said through recreational activities, academic programming and the varsity esports team, UND is working to make esports opportunities available to students and the larger community across Grand Forks, North Dakota and the Northern Plains.

“The construction of this new, state-of-the-art varsity competition space will be an outstanding addition to campus and to the community,” Link said. “It will provide a unique arena for not only UND’s competitive esports athletes, but also a variety of community engagement opportunities and student learning experiences that rival the very best in the nation.”

Having the Varsity Esports Team in one centralized and remodeled location — Isbell’s and Esports Coach Ryan Kraus’ offices are right across the hall — will mean a culture change for the team, an identity as collegiate athletes.

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“It will definitely be a culture switch,” Kraus said. “We’re trying to make it more serious, more competitive in nature.”

This fall, UND will start offering an undergraduate degree in esports , in person and online, after the State Board of Higher Education approved the new degree program in February. The program is the first in North Dakota and focuses on sport performance, but is linked to kinesiology, public health, sport business, computer science and communication.

Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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