New esports arena now open at Gateway’s Racine campus

RACINE — Students of Gateway Technical College can now shoot hoops, race drones and stumble their way to the finish line, all in one room. The college recently opened the Red Hawks Esports Arena within the Racine Campus, 1001 S. Main St.

Chase Hays, center, plays “Overwatch 2” as he looks over to Kenny Davis playing “Rocket League” next to him.

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The idea for an esports arena came from the combined effort of Steve Whitmoyer and Equainess Price, both staff at the college who now also serve as esports advisors and coaches, along with current Gateway President Bryan Albrecht and Vice President Stephanie Sklba, who wanted to bring esports into the school to join the likes of Carthage College and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which already have established esports programs.

“Almost every college in the system has started some semblance of an esports organization now,” Whitmoyer said. “They (Albrecht and Sklba) have worked really hard developing and implementing that vision here at the college. Because we wanted to be a part of this growing entity that we call esports that’s permeating throughout the U.S.”

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Whitmoyer went on to say that another big hope for the organization was to connect the students more with the college, and become more involved while growing more interpersonal relationships, not just on the team, but also building personal bonds.

“That’s an amazing feature that you don’t necessarily see in other entities. That is something magical in esports,” Whitmoyer said. “We’re seeing it with a lot of different people that were, I won’t say disenfranchised or even marginalized, but felt more alone, but now you start to see them start bonding in ways you never thought people would start bonding in ways you never thought people would bond, and it’s bringing across the entire spectrum of people together in one platform and shared experience.”

All students have access to the arena, but they must be a part of the esports club. The club is free to join for students, with a $5 deposit on a key fob for entry, and meetings take place once a month. With the fob, students are granted entry into the arena for as long as the college is open, with it closing an hour before the schools doors are locked, allowing time for more intense games to finish.

Equainess Price fixes up the broadcasting room in the Gateway Technical College Red Hawks esports Arena Thursday.

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The arena comes complete with 18 Asus gaming setups, each with a terabyte hard drive and 16 gigabytes of RAM. The computers are all connected through a program called ggLeap. This allows Price to control any of the computers remotely and also prevents students from doing anything malicious to the computers, intentionally or not, by only letting them play the respective games on them.

“They cannot install anything, they cannot remove anything,” Price said. “It (ggLeap) really locks the system down, prevents them from cheating and keeps everybody honest.”

With ggLeap, the students can also track their playing and practice times as well, even when some of them are practicing at home.

The arena also includes three Nintendo Switch consoles, plenty of controllers in many different varieties, and, most importantly, various games.

A few of the games currently in the arena’s computers include “Rocket League,” a hybrid of virtual racing and soccer; “Super Smash Brothers Ultimate,” a platforming fighting game starring Nintendo characters like Mario and Kirby; and “NBA 2k23.”

Noah Owens, left, and Devin Smith compete head-to-head and a round of “iRacing,” a car racing simulator.

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One game, “Drone Racing League Simulator,” is integrated into the college’s already established drone program in the civil engineering program, in which Whitmoyer is an instructor. The game controls exactly like piloting an actual drone would. Whitmoyer said that in the drone classes taught at Gateway, students have to earn a certain rank in the game before they can leave the virtual sky and take to the real one by flying a real drone.

The advisors are always taking new suggestions from students on what games they want to see at the arena, and hope to include those in next year’s budget.

But this isn’t all fun and games. Gateway is coming to win.

“We’re coming for you, Lakeland,” Whitmoyer said jokingly, before praising Lakeland University, and specifically their head esports coach, retired Green Bay Packer Ahman Green, for the help in getting the arena together.

The area also features a broadcasting room just down the hallway, allowing for matches to be broadcast online.

Gateway will start with hosting local esports events and tournaments for the students. By next semester, Price and Whitmoyer hope, the varsity teams will be ready to go head-to-head with different area colleges. Students with good academic standings can join the varsity teams, and be able to represent the school when they take to the competitive circuits.

While competing for the college is a focus from the pride standpoint as Whitmoyer puts it, the focal point of introducing esports to the college is for fun. You don’t have to be on a varsity team to come into the club and play what you like. This being said, the Red Hawks are coming to win.

Liam Neff tries out the game “NBA 2k23” inside Gateway Technical College’s new esports arena Thursday.

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“Now, we still will be the center of esports for Wisconsin in three years,” Whitmoyer said, “so, mark that in your calendar, everyone else.”

“He’s been an athletic director for three months, he’s talking like Matt LaFleur already,” Lee Colony, communications and media director at Gateway, added.

A ribbon cutting event took place Thursday afternoon, with open demos for attendees to try, as well as the “NBA 2K23” Varsity team conducting a practice.

The Racine campus will act as the main hub for the Red Hawks esports teams, with hopefully expansion into the other campuses, Kenosha and Elkhorn, to come eventually. As Price and Whitmoyer put it, that would be “phase two.”

From left: Steve Whitmoyer, Gateway President Bryan Albrecht, and Equainess Price are pictured during the ribbon cutting ceremony for Gateway’s new Red Hawk Esports Arena Thursday.

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A closing joke

In a speech before he cut the ribbon, Albrecht said: “I always knew Rudy the Red Hawk (Gateway’s mascot) was a bird of prey, but now he is also a bird of play.”

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