Ready Player One: Merrimack College Opens Esports Center With Sights on Expanding esports on Campus

Esports Director Robert Skinnion is looking for Merrimack’s top gamers to represent the College on the virtual playing field.
A computer and gaming chair with an embroidered Merrimack College Esports logo
Students play games in the Esports Room in the Student Union at Merrimack College, Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, in North Andover. (Photo/Mary Schwalm) 1/20/23

Merrimack College’s new esports center in the Student Union is on par with some of the premier Division I programs in the country: 17 state-of-the-art PCs and three TVs to play Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series Xs and Oculus VR.

Now, the College just needs a Division I program. And that is where Robert Skinnion comes in. Skinnion, former head coach of esports at Assumption University, has been tapped to serve as the College’s inaugural esports director.

“Part of my investment in esports is creating a pipeline for people that are in that high school phase to get them into college,” he said. “I can have an idea of what each group is looking for and how things are playing out in each age range.” 

Within the first week of Merrimack’s esports room opening in January 2023, about 40 students applied to join teams and 168 registered on the center’s gaming PCs. Merrimack’s esports program will feature teams of different skill levels, Skinnion explained. In addition, he hopes to host casual gaming nights for students looking for less competitive play. 

“The interest level has been pretty strong especially in its first week,” said Skinnion. 

“(Esports teams) will be a hybrid of an athletic program and club.”

While the teams are being formed, the center is primarily being used as a recreation area. Students can stop by and play some of the center’s preloaded PC games or install ones they’ve already purchased through Steam, Battle.net or the Epic Games Store. According to Skinnion, some of the most popular games on campus are Fortnite, Rocket League, Valorant and Overwatch.

Gabriel Lopez ’23, a criminal justice major with minors in political science and pre-law, said he hopes to either play or coach on a potential Rocket League team.

“The equipment (at the esports center) is better than my setup I currently have in my room,” he said. “I think it’s a really cool addition to campus and it makes me feel a little more home.”

In the long run, Skinnion sees Merrimack not only competing in well known leagues like ECAC or NECC but also building a cross-campus gaming community with other local universities. “With the setup that we have we can definitely invite other colleges here for events,” he continued. “I think that’s very important to building a community.”

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