The Wendy's in the Student Union was the unofficial place to game with friends at UNC.
But equipment had to repeatedly be set up and then taken down and scheduling proved difficult. To create a more permanent solution, the University created the Carolina Gaming Arena.
The arena, which had its soft opening in June, is located on the ground level of Craige Residence Hall. Easily distinguished by bright lights and a welcoming environment, it offers a new home for student gamers.
Kenan Poole, a senior majoring in computer science, has been a part of UNC’s gaming community since his first year, when he began playing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate with a group of friends.
“We’d been playing in the Wendy’s, or we were playing in the Underground," Poole said. "This year’s the first year where the gaming arena is open. Now we have a space where we can actually run our events.”
Poole said he is able to help out with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate every Sunday night in a place he can call his own.
“I love that we have a designated space that we can point to,” Poole said. “We may have been looked down on for being in the Wendy’s, just having a little bit of a non-official setup."
A permanent location makes events more accessible, not only for UNC students, but for gamers from other schools that want to join, such as North Carolina State University. Poole said being so close to Craige Parking Deck gives students more parking options too, especially on the weekends.
One of the ways UNC chose to promote the arena was through its resident advisers.
RA Hope Gambill, a sophomore majoring in political science and philosophy, said that when the RAs completed training prior to regular move-in, one of their activities was to tour the new Carolina Gaming Arena. The idea was to encourage the RAs to hold events in the arena so their residents would feel more comfortable using the facility themselves.
“If your RA can plan it, then you don’t have to do it on your own," Gambill said. "You get to go with people you already know.”
RA Nikki Rafferty, a junior majoring in economics and English, also completed the tour and played games with her friends, taking an interest in the virtual reality offered in the arena.
There are a variety of games offered, from more casual games like Mario Kart to the hardcore “latest and greatest games,” Rafferty said.
Another perk of the facility is the different skill levels the arena accommodates. Students can come to the arena with absolutely no gaming experience, or they can be professionals.
Rebecca Kielmanowicz, a first-year majoring in computer science, watched an Esports tournament in the arena and played Smash Bros. on the Nintendo Switch. Kielmanowicz said even the fact that the arena is something available to UNC students is exciting to her.
“I hope they get more games, because they don’t have that much of a selection right now," Kielmanowicz said. "But it’s definitely still cool."
The Carolina Gaming Arena’s 36 PC stations, three game console zones, over 100 games and several monitors are available for free play, as well as reservation. Clubs will host events in the arena, including Smash Weekly and Variety Game Night.
Since opening for limited hours in June, UNC students have utilized the arena for a variety of activities, something they could not do in the Student Union.
“The access to equipment is astounding,” Poole said. “We’ve got internet here, Ethernet, so it just makes it accessible and that’s what makes it huge. And they went all out.”
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