Swank arena, and even a nutritionist, for University of Delaware’s new varsity gaming team

University of Delaware varsity member Kyle Oak practices gaming prior to a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open its esports facility at the University of Delaware in Newark. (Saquan Stimpson for WHYY)

University of Delaware varsity member Kyle Oak practices gaming prior to a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open its esports facility at the University of Delaware in Newark. (Saquan Stimpson for WHYY)

John Kim has the sturdy physique of the basketball and tennis player he was in high school. Now a University of Delaware senior majoring in sports management, Kim is also a varsity college athlete, albeit one who doesn’t break a sweat in the heat of battle.

Kim is on the gaming team at the state’s flagship university, and Friday, he discussed the school’s newest varsity sport as UD showed off its new Esports Arena. The 1,800-square-foot facility at the Perkins Student Center will host games and tournaments, and also be available to students who are casual gamers. It’s equipped with 33 gaming consoles.

University of Delaware students are seen practicing prior to a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open its esports facility at the University of Delaware. (Saquan Stimpson for WHYY)

Kim is among UD’s top-ranked varsity players, one of 35 who were selected after tryouts for the school’s debut season. Previously, gaming was just a club sport at the Newark school, which has now joined about 300 other colleges with varsity programs.

“It’s definitely a greater opportunity than before when we were on the club team,’’ Kim said. “We didn’t have many resources. Now we have funding for coaching, you know, for like jerseys, for a nice arena, a nice practice center. We’re going to have access to a nutritionist?”

A surprised reporter asked Kim if gamers really need dietary coaching.

University of Delaware student John Kim practices prior to a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open its esports facility at the University of Delaware in Newark. (Saquan Stimpson for WHYY)

“When you are getting ready for game day and stuff, you don’t want to put junk in your body and feel sluggish for a game,’’ he said. “You want to be focused, attentive, and have your brain working. Not Red Bull and nachos. You get like jittery and you feel bad, you feel slow. I don’t feel right in my game.”

So what’s Kim’s ideal pregame meal?

“Some simple chicken, veggies,’’ he said. “I’ll have a cup of coffee. My body’s accustomed to that, so I won’t be, like, shaking in the game.”

University of Delaware President Dennis Assanis, faculty members along with UD’s varsity esports team gather for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open its esports facility at the University of Delaware. (Saquan Stimpson for WHYY)

UD’s president, Dennis Assanis, was among a host of school administrators who mingled with gamers and fans during Friday’s elaborate arena kickoff, which featured a catered feast and cosplayers dressed as characters for games such as Overwatch.

Assanis gushed about “a new type of Blue Hen’’ athlete.

“We’re super excited. This is unbelievably cool,” Assanis said. “It’s going to attract tremendous pipelines of students from Delaware and the greater area to come and study at the university.

“We should all realize that the graphics industry, the video game industry, all of that, it’s probably a $120 billion dollar industry now. More than two billion people on the planet are engaged.”

University of Delaware officially opened its esports facility at the University Delaware on Friday. Feb. 21, 2020. (Saquan Stimpson for WHYY)

According to Forbes, the video Assanis added that UD is also “looking into an Esports major” with perhaps even scholarships for top competitors.

Esports is considered a professional sport, with Philadelphia having its own team, the Fusion. A 60,000-square-foot Esports arena is currently under construction for the Fusion near Philadelphia’s sports arenas for the Eagles, Phillies, 76ers and Flyers.

One of Friday’s cosplayers was Amanda Kovaleski, a statistics major and student theater participant who donned a makeshift uniform depicting the character Ashe, one of the gun-toting heroes in the shooter game Overwatch.

Kovaleski isn’t a varsity competitor but enjoys video games. She’s delighted that the school created the Esports arena.

“I think it’s amazing that they opened this,’’ she said. “This is revolutionary.”

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