Surrounded by students wearing headphones, fingers flying over keyboards as they kept laser focus on their computer monitors, President Gayle Hutchinson and Associated Students President Krystal Alverez threw their whole bodies into an epic game of Mario Kart.

Diving left and right, leaning deep into each turn, the friendly competitors laughed and gasped as the surrounding crowd cheered them on. For Kendall Ross, director of Recreational Sports, the grand opening of the University’s new Gaming Lobby showed off the space’s potential in a big way.

“This is such a big deal. It’s an awesome unique space and gives us an opportunity to recruit and retain students with a sense of belonging and new service on campus,” Ross said.

The Gaming Lobby features PC gaming, console gaming, arcade games, board games, and more. Its regular operating hours will be 2–9 p.m. Tuesday–Friday, and students will need their Wildcat ID for entry. The entrance is located on the Warner Street side of Whitney Hall, up the outdoor stairs, and next to a giant vinyl sign advertising its presence.

With nearly every gaming station occupied and dozens of other students watching from the wings, the grand opening on September 1 included tours and an exhibition game. The program is led by Recreational Sports, which also oversees the University’s intramural sports, sport clubs, and summer youth camps.

“A wide group of people coming together because of a love or a curiosity about one thing is beautiful, and having a space to do that is really wonderful,” said sophomore Bennie Ksiazek, a computer animation and game development major, noting that more than 170 people tuned in to the livestream of the grand opening on Twitch. “It makes gaming on campus feel serious and legitimized. I hope we can keep the hype going.”

President Hutchinson and AS President Krystal Alvarez make extreme expressions as they play video games in the new gaming lobby while a crowd cheers them on from behind.
AS President Krystal Alvarez (left) and University President Gayle Hutchinson play a round of Mario Kart during the Grand Opening of the Wildcat Gaming Lobby.

The lobby’s presence makes Chico State the fifth campus in the CSU to have a designated gaming space. Esports is the fastest growing sport in the world and last year outsold the music and music industries combined, Ross said.

“Our goal with this space is to create inclusive gaming as a means to alternative wellness,” she said. “We know our students are gaming, especially as it grew in popularity during COVID, and we want campus to be an option for this hobby and interest.”

Students said not only does it support a positive social atmosphere and sense of community, but it also creates opportunity to work on skills such as strategy and logic.

“Video games mean different things to different people,” Ksiazek said. “Some people use it for stress relief. I use it to practice being focused. And it’s another way to meet new people and maintain connections with friends.”

Senior Emily Ramos, an education major who admitted she is not an avid gamer, said working as a lobby staff member has been an enjoyable way to broaden her knowledge and learn a new skill. She’s found the other students to be both welcoming and encouraging, and said it’s nice to have another space to engage in recreation on campus.

“Not everyone is interested in going to the WREC,” she said. “This is only adding. It’s hard to say ‘Why should we have this?’ Why shouldn’t we?”

Recreational Sports is working to collaborate with the Computer Animation and Game Department on opportunities to partner together and best serve students. The Gaming Lobby will also help the Chico State Gaming Club evolve more into competitive PC gaming. The club currently has about 40 active members, with another 40 or so students who show up intermittently to its events and gatherings.

“PC Gaming is often viewed as the pinnacle of gaming. It’s the most beautiful and intense, and it’s also the most expensive,” said Ksiazek. “So setting up a dedicated space is really great because it makes it more accessible.”

A student sits at a computer playing a video game in the new Gaming Lobby.
Ankit Vankineni enjoys the Grand Opening of the Wildcat Gaming Lobby.

Senior Angel Tapia, a music industry major, is excited to now spend time in the lobby between classes, rather than going home. She especially looks forward to seeing how Dungeons and Dragons can evolve at Chico State with such a space.

“A lot of people have been waiting for something like this,” added freshman Kadence Simmons, a psychology major. “I’ve heard so many people say, ‘I wish this existed when I was a freshman!’ or ‘Why did they wait to open this until I was about to graduate?’”

Ross anticipates the space can hold about 45 students at a time, and based on the popularity of other game activities that have been hosted, she expects regular attendance to be high.

For more details, visit the Recreational Sports website.