From casual play to competitive teams, the Tufts Gaming Hub offers a space for students of all gaming skill levels to play, compete, share common interests and make new friends. Composed of a Discord server of over 700 members, the club hosts an expansive community centered around all things gaming.
Up until this academic year, however, the Gaming Hub looked a lot different than it does today. Due to a lack of organization and engagement, the club had become relatively inactive. To reach its present, flourishing state, it underwent an extensive revitalization process under the direction of a dedicated executive board.
“My freshman year, … the club was mostly just doing [Super] Smash [Bros],” junior Aaron Hamburg, the treasurer of Tufts Gaming Hub said. “One of my friends and I wanted to play League [of Legends] competitively, … [so] we grew the League scene a lot. But the rest of the club was pretty stagnant, and we got very close … to losing our club recognition.”
The direction of the Gaming Hub shifted when the club held elections for a new executive board in spring 2021. The newly elected executive board members were eager to see the club grow, and over the summer, they came together to restructure the club and reflect on the direction they hoped it would go in the future.
“We got everyone together, and we were like, ‘Okay, guys, what do we want to do?’” sophomore Jian Soo, the president of Tufts Gaming Hub, said. “We threw out ideas and stuff like that and we were like, ‘Okay, let’s set up some workflows,’ … because we wanted to redo the whole thing.”
This revitalization process was met with many challenges. The previous executive board hadn’t submitted a budget allocation to the TCU Senate, causing the new executive board to have to request emergency funding. Additionally, the executive board had to develop a completely new organizational structure, which included implementing a hierarchical system of leadership and merging two separate Discord Community Hubs into one.
Samuel Maddams, a sophomore, and the community outreach coordinator for the Gaming Hub, outlined the process of creating the club’s new Discord server.
“We realized that actually we had two separate community hubs … and so we decided, as a whole, we should bring them back together,” Maddams said. “There was this big migration we did, and that really did bring back a lot of activity.”
This revitalization process also involved pulling in new members and fortifying the club’s two-part structure. This two-part structure is composed of the club’s casual and competitive sides. The competitive side consists of the Gaming Hub’s competitive teams, which take part in national collegiate Esports leagues. The casual side consists of casual play and social activities.
Maddams described some of the interplay between the casual and competitive sides of the club. In a way, the casual side does not only serve as a social space for low-stakes play but can also act as a gateway into the club’s more competitive side.
“People who play in these custom games [on the casual side], if they enjoy it, they keep coming back,” Maddams said. “They meet people, they learn about each other and they make friends, … and then they’re making friends with people who might be on the competitive team, … so interacting with the community is how you generate more players.”
The competitive side of the Gaming Hub consists of eight competitive games, each with its own designated officer who oversees the game. Additionally, each game is broken down into individual teams, each of which have a team captain who oversees tasks such as scheduling matches and running practices. The teams are organized by skill level, and gamers are organized into these levels through tryouts.
Matt Holsten, a sophomore, is the Rocket League officer and the captain of the varsity Rocket League team. Rocket League is a video game that mirrors soccer, though instead of players, rocket-powered cars are used to hit the ball. Holsten created the Rocket League team himself, as he had been interested in playing the game competitively, but there was not previously a team at Tufts. After discovering the Gaming Hub, Holsten reached out to Maddams, who encouraged him to put the team into action.
Holsten described some of the key differences between playing casually and playing within a competitive team.
“[The expectations are] different between casual and competitive [play]. It’s the time commitment and that you’re committed … to helping your teammates, and it’s no longer just about you playing,” Holsten said.
Holsten, along with other members of the club, noted that a challenge the club has faced is a lack of resources in comparison to other schools. The quality of Wi-Fi and internet connection can greatly impact successful gameplay.
“[Internet] varies around campus; some buildings don’t have Ethernet, … whereas Wi-Fi is a lot more variable,” Holsten said. “There have been times where we have had to make substitutions during [a] game, simply because someone’s Wi-Fi is so bad.”
Additionally, not every player has access to the computers required to play certain games.
“There’s a player on the varsity team who was basically not going to play because he didn’t have a PC on campus,” Holsten said. “Part of the deal we organized amongst us was that he’d be able to play on a friend’s computer.”
Maddams noted how this is challenging when competing with other schools who have well-funded programs.
“Most of the teams [we] play against … have millions of dollars [in funding] going into their gaming teams and gaming facilities, such as having a designated space for computers and hardware, so they don’t experience any inconsistencies in their internet connection,” Maddams said.
Brent Cheung, a junior, is the vice president of the competitive side of the Gaming Hub. He expressed how, despite this comparative lack of resources, the Gaming Hub’s teams are still quite competitive.
“We’re consistently beating a lot of schools,” Cheung said. “We played against [Worcester Polytechnic Institute] — some of them are on scholarships — we’re beating [them] too. And all we’re asking for is to give us a [few] more resources [so] that we can actually start to compete with the bigger schools. … We’re not at the point where we’re beating Northeastern because we can’t; they have a full-time varsity coach.”
Going forward, the club would like to garner more funding from the university to provide players with computers. The club also hopes to retain an on-campus room in which players can practice and play together.
This space would not only be useful to the club’s competitive side but also for the second half of the Gaming Hub — its casual side. The casual side is a place in which gamers can mingle with one another, play games together and rejoice in common interests.
Lucy Handman, former vice president of the casual side of the club and current Minecraft officer, outlined an example of a casual event that is offered by the club.
“We’ve had Minecraft streams where … we’d [be] building the spawn together or building this industrial district together,” Handman said. “A bunch of us would get into the group chat, I would stream it over our Gaming Hub Twitch, and we would all just build and chat and have a good time together.”
She noted how the casual side is open to players of all levels of skill and all sorts of different games.
“[The Gaming Hub] is a great place to find community members and just to talk about any game that you love,” Handman said. “It’s so supportive. … Even if you don’t see your game on the list of our 48-something games that we have, … it’s easy to say … ‘Can you add this [game]?’”
Similarly, Soo expressed that the Gaming Hub is open to everyone, whether you enjoy playing casually or competitively. “We’ve got something for everyone,” Soo said. “I think one thing that’s been really cool is … we’ve got a pretty good gender distribution. … Typically, you think, ‘Oh man, there’s going to be just a bunch of dudes in the game,’ … but frankly we have all sorts [of gamers], which is really, really cool. I just want to make sure that it’s a welcoming environment for everyone.”