A small space located across the hall from the Bulldog Market in Armacost Library has recently become home to a growing community fostered by a mutual passion for consoles, controllers, and a strong wifi connection. For esports director Jacob Beach, this is only the beginning.
“Esports stands for Electronic Sports. It’s our term for competitive gaming,” he said. The mini esports arena in Armacost 138 invites students of all skill levels to grab a controller, put on a headset, and play a wide range of titles that include Super Smash Bros, Rocket League, Overwatch, League of Legends, Valorant, and many others.
“My journey started around my freshman year of high school. There was a place called Howie’s Gaming Shack in Buena Park, California. There were about a hundred system-linked Xboxes and about twenty computers,” Beach said of his background. “This is right when Halo and Call of Duty were at their peak of popularity, when Xbox Live services were really strong,” Beach said.
Beach continued to hone his chops at Howie’s, winning tournament after tournament to become a virtual force to be reckoned with. This winning streak led to his gaining a sponsorship from the facility.
“I got paid a dollar an hour after school to just play with their tag on Xbox,” Beach said.
After completing his schooling and spending a brief period at an unfulfilling desk job for wastewater management, Beach eventually took on esports coaching duties full-time. This career began with developing a collegiate esports team at Centralia College in Washington.
“I haven’t looked back since,” Beach said.
Upon moving back to Southern California, Beach was notified that the University of Redlands was seeking a director to start their own esports team. This plan received support from a friend in high places: University President, Krista Newkirk.
Having seen the positive impact of incorporating an esports team at her previous college, President Newkirk sought to ensure one was developed here at Redlands. Beach was employed to oversee this development a year in advance of the team’s official debut.
“We don’t launch until next Fall, and I’ve been here since last Fall, building the framework and getting there so we can enter the market as a top school,” he said.
In the meantime, Beach mentors casual and pro gamers alike. One of his duties include facilitating a welcoming environment for students of all skill levels. For Beach, his spark for directing esports comes not from winning tournaments, but from bringing out the best in the gamers he coaches.
Beach mentioned anecdotes of student gamers who started out on the team as shy and unsociable, only to come out of their shells and gain more confidence in themselves.
“That is a microcosm of what I see all the time; that’s what I live for. If I can have that experience with a student, it makes me feel amazing, that gaming was able to lead them to that,” Beach said.
With the University of Redlands’ esports debut only a semester away, Beach shared some news about the full arena launch. This new, larger space will increase the number of gaming units from four to forty. It will also include a content creation room, lounge area, film review area for varsity athletes, and a competition stage. Furthermore, the space will also act as a popular hangout spot where university students are free to express their inner geek.
“If you’re a gamer, have any interest in gaming, anime, comic culture, tabletop, that’s gonna be your place to hangout in between classes before and after,” Beach said.
He extends this invitation to any student across campus who wants gaming to be part of their collegiate experience and encourages them to reach out, visit the esports arena, meet other like-minded gamers, interact, play, talk, and be present. “That’s what gaming is. It’s not just hardcore competition all the time. It’s a full culture you want to immerse yourself in,” Beach concluded.
Photo by Marissa Torres.