A new esports arena is slated to join the campus of Arizona Western College in time for the Fall 2021 semester. Valued at $12,000, the arena is one of six supported by the college’s 2021 Innovation Fund, a strategic planning initiative that annually awards one-time funding for projects aimed toward enhancing the student experience via innovation, connection and accessibility.

Established after the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) announced the creation of the NJCAA Esports League in the fall of 2019, students in the AWC Matador Esports program compete in organized, multiplayer video games including Madden, NBA FIFA, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Fortnite, Overwatch, Call of Duty and League of Legends.

“We cover something for just about everybody,” said esports coach AJ Buchtel. “If you play a multiplayer game online, there’s probably an esports for it, and we probably offer it.”

Currently, the program has a practice space in the college’s engineering building, and will move into the renovated arena in a newly reconstructed business administration building by fall. The new arena will be a “blueprint” for an eventual larger space, according to Buchtel, as his future plans for the program include expanding it “much further.”

“This is the ground floor of something I hope is going to be really big for the college,” said Buchtel. “My goal, overall, is: I would like to have an esports arena big enough that gaming computers are available to every student that wants to come in and play when they’re not in class or studying. You could have a space on campus where you could come jump on a gaming PC or sit down at a console and play whatever.”

When the arena opens to the public, Buchtel aims to host esports tournaments and other community-focused gaming events.

For Buchtel, who also works as an cloud services architect at AWC, coaching esports started with an email from the college’s vice president of technology requesting volunteers to take on the role and help solidify the program.

“I said, ‘Sure, why not?’” he said. “There wasn’t really a place for esports players like there is for the rest of the athletes. Even though they have a lot of the same skill sets with hand-eye coordination and problem solving. It was really nice to be able to provide an opportunity for students who wouldn’t normally have this opportunity to compete on a national level.”

Students interested in joining AWC Matador Esports roster can connect with the program via Instagram at @awc_matadoresports, on Twitter at @matadoresports and on Twitch at https://www.twitch.tv/awc_matadoresports/videos. They can also send an email to esports@azwestern.edu.

Buchtel added that he’d like to see esports programs crop up on local high school campuses, and encourages students and educators interested in starting one to contact him through one of the aforementioned outlets.

“There’s a lot of college scholarships and opportunities out there for esports,” said Buchtel. “Esports is getting really big, and the more we support it and get behind it as a community, the better.”

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