Keyano cuts the ribbon on $900,000 esports arena

The arena is the first of its kind in Alberta. Keyano’s leadership knows there’s skepticism, but sees potential in esports.

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Jonathan Lambert has lots of pride in the Keyano Huskies, but he never thought a team would compete against Harvard or Texas A&M and win. As the college’s athletics director, he also never thought video games would one day be part of his job.

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But since launching at the start of the 2021-22 season, Keyano’s esports team has been doing well. They’ve been a top-10 finisher on Esport Canada’s post-secondary power rankings. They’ve qualified for major competitions. A two-year business administration diploma in esports management has strong enrolment.

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Keyano’s leadership is betting big on esports. It’s largest investment so far was unveiled Tuesday at a ribbon cutting ceremony for its $900,000 esports arena, the first of its kind in Alberta.

“This is a multi-billion dollar industry. There are jobs for our graduates and we’re investing in our students and community,” said Notay in an interview at the ceremony. “A key priority is keeping youth in the community and this program allows that to happen.”

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The esports arena has 26 computers and three console stations, each featuring a Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 5. There is enough room for the student athletes and the public during competitions. It can also be used by student groups and rented by corporations, community groups and the public.

“It’s true esports are easy to play from anywhere online, but the equipment needed to run games at a high level and play them competitively can sometimes be difficult,” said Ben Bramly, the team’s coach. Bramly, who coached the esports team at Durham College in Oshawa, Ont., also teaches in Keyano’s esports management program.

“Having the players in a room together means they’re able to fist-bump each other, talk with each other and have a conversation. That’s really beneficial for the team’s morale and performance,” he said.

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The SMG @KeyanoEsports Arena is officially open! Thank you to everyone who joined us today at @keyanocollege to mark this important moment in the next step of our academic & athletic #esport programs! #PrideInThePack | #ymm — Keyano College Huskies Athletics (@keyanohuskies) January 23, 2024

Keyano sees future in esports: Notay

Jay Notay, president and CEO of Keyano, knows most people are skeptical. The project was proposed by previous leaders and Notay had doubts when he arrived at Keyano, as did other members of Keyano’s leadership. At the ribbon cutting ceremony, many speakers also admitted they originally didn’t see esports as a priority.

But Notay, the speakers and the rest of Keyano’s leadership understand money. Canada’s video game industry was worth $5.5 billion in 2021 and the Alberta Esports Association has partnered with economic and tourism groups to promote esports.

Weekly tournaments in Alberta often have more than 100 competitors. Keyano is one of dozens of Canadian universities and colleges with an esports team. Many teams are campus clubs, but Keyano is the first Alberta Colleges Athletics Conference (ACAC) member treating esports as an athletics team. The athletes themselves have a fitness regime approved by the ACAC.

“There’s still a lot of skepticism out there, but people are warming up and we’re paying attention to what our youth want and we’re seeing where jobs are for them,” said Notay. “The complexity in this sector shows this is another industry that needs support. If it helps youth stay in our region to live and work and learn here, Keyano’s done it’s job.”

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