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February 1, 2024

Home field advantage: With $750K gift, USM will build arena for fast-growing 'esports'

rendering of computers and chairs Courtesy / SMRT Architects and Engineers Town & Country Federal Credit Union donated $750,000 to build an esports arena and program, expected to drive student recruitment, on USM’s Gorham campus.

A new sports arena is coming to southern Maine, with the help of a $750,000 gift from Town & Country Federal Credit Union.

On Thursday, the University of Southern Maine Foundation announced it has received the donation to create an esports arena on the University of Southern Maine's Gorham campus.

Electronic sports, or esports, are quickly penetrating Maine, as participation grows at the high school and collegiate level, and even college scholarships being awarded to people who want to play esports.

Industry "players" include Omnic Data Inc., founded in 2021 in Brunswick, which has built an artificial intelligence platform for the esports industry.

Seeking to open doors for graduates in the growing field of electronic sports, Thomas College launched a new academic major in fall of 2022 called esports and gaming administration.

Hussey Seating Co. in North Berwick in 2018 entered the esports market with a contract for over 3,000 of its folding chairs at Esports Stadium Arlington in Arlington, Texas — at 100,000 square feet, the largest such dedicated venue in North America.

Town & Country Federal Credit Union, which is based in Scarborough and is Maine's fourth-largest credit union, will be the founding sponsor of the esports program at USM, which is now the largest club sport at the university and the largest collegiate esports program in Maine. 

5 people standing in a line in front of banner
Courtesy / Michael Kmack, University of Southern Maine
From left, USM Foundation President Ainsley Wallace; Town & Country’s SVP and CIO Michael Jackson, SVP of communications, marketing and community outreach Jon Paradise, and board vice chair Josh Fifield; and USM President Jacqueline Edmondson announce an esports program and arena.

It’s expected the new arena will be ready for action this fall. The arena is expected to be a recruitment driver for USM.

SMRT Architects and Engineers in Portland is helping with the schematic design phase of the project, which will be built at USM’s Brooks Student Center in 2,020 square feet of newly renovated space, with nearly 70 seats across various rooms, plus three streaming suites. The project cost hasn’t yet been determined.

Collab is an endeavor by Town & Country focused on facilitating collaboration and bringing people and organizations together to build stronger communities, socially and economically. The credit union said it will reveal additional details later this year.

Town & Country ranks No. 4 among Maine-based credit unions, according to the 2024 Mainebiz Book of Lists. As of Sept. 30, 2023, it had assets of $551.8 million, as well as six Maine offices. 

Big-time sports

One of the fastest-growing sports on college campuses across the country, esports is a form of organized, multiplayer video game competition. Like traditional sports, esports involves teams competing in conference tournaments, such as Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference competitions.

David Libby, the credit union’s president and CEO, said the investment “provides a unique opportunity for our organization to collaborate with the University of Southern Maine. This partnership aligns with our goals that include supporting higher education by facilitating new and innovative hands-on learning and engagement for current and future students.”

An esports arena is a large, open, gaming-ready space where students can gather in person to play, watch and livestream. 

Town & Country’s gift will support technology, equipment and infrastructure build-out, which typically includes computers, gaming consoles and furniture for gaming stations, as well as internet and networking capabilities and HVAC system upgrades. The arena will include a broadcast area for student commentators during livestreamed competitions.

“A facility like this will help erase some of the barriers to play for students who don’t own the most up-to-date equipment or have access to space on campus to compete,” said Katriana Thebarge, USM’s coordinator of Recreation. “An arena will get gamers out of their dorm rooms for fun, in-person activities and competition.”

Overseen by USM’s Office of Student Affairs, the facility ix expected will enable USM to host state and regional competitions and attract potential students. 

Other opportunities include collaboration with USM’s new academic minor in esports management at the School of Business. The first academic course with esports content will be offered this spring with a focus on the legal aspects and implications for esports managers.

The activity took off at USM with the formation of its first esports club in January 2023. Participation in the club nearly doubled in less than a year. Today, over 170 students are active program members, including 70 who take part in ECAC competitions in 15 games. Esports is also the largest club sport at the university.

Last fall, USM’s esports team captured second place in the ECAC League of Legends championship match. 

Town & Country will serve as a special innovation advisor to USM’s student-led esports advisory committee. The firm will receive recognition on team uniforms, at regional and state competitions, and in future esports podcasts. 

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