Fort McMurray college opens first-of-its-kind esports arena in Alberta

The SMG Esports Arena in Fort McMurray, Alta., is the first esports arena in Alberta. It is home to the Keyano College Huskies esports teams. (Keyano College - image credit)
The SMG Esports Arena in Fort McMurray, Alta., is the first esports arena in Alberta. It is home to the Keyano College Huskies esports teams. (Keyano College - image credit)

Keyano College in Fort McMurray, Alta., has opened the first-of-its-kind esports arena in the province.

Based at the college's Clearwater campus, the new $900,000 facility is called the SMG Esports Arena. It now serves as the permanent home for the Keyano College Huskies esports teams.

Coach Ben Bramly of the Keyano Huskies esports team said the idea came up in 2021 as the college was looking for ways to draw students to Fort McMurray, and keep local high school students in the northern Alberta community.

"We want to keep local students in high school here from leaving and going south to Calgary or Edmonton, and keep them in the local area," Bramly said in an interview with CBC's Radio Active.

What is esports?

Short for electronic sports, esports is an umbrella term for competitive video gaming. Whether in the realm of amateur tournaments or professional play, it involves top-tier talent competing in high-skill games for various prizes.

Over the past decade, the esports industry has grown globally with organized competitions filling stadiums and attracting millions of in-person and online viewers.

In 2024, the projected revenue in the esports market in Canada is expected to reach about $186 million, according to Statista, a research firm specializing in market and consumer data.

People engaging in the esport market through betting, merchandising, ticketing, and streaming is expected to amount to about 15 million users by 2028.

The Alberta Esports Association, the governing body of esports in the province, released a strategy in 2022 outlining what the province can do and what it can gain from setting itself up as a hub for esports.

According to the report, esports can bolster tourism in Alberta, create jobs at the provincial level, and bring in new opportunities for emerging technologies like virtual reality.

The right educational programs in the province could also produce new talent in the field and improve student experience, according to the report.

Head start for esport management students, college says

The establishment of the arena is beneficial for students in the two-year business administration diploma program specializing in esports management.

"The two-year diploma helps students develop the skills needed to start their career in the industry," said the release.

Keyano College has a new scholarship for Indigenous students.
Keyano College has a new scholarship for Indigenous students.

Keyano College offers a two-year business administration diploma with a specialization in esports management. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

The new arena features 26 computers and three console stations, each equipped with a Sony Playstation 5 and Nintendo Switch.

The program currently has a student body of 20 people, a mix of international and domestic students, Bramly said.

Since the esports management program is based under the college's business administration diploma, Bramly said students are still learning business basics: marketing, accounting, and project management.

Specialized esport-related classes that students can take include event management, production, and content creation.

"[Esports] is blowing up in all senses, which is where our program is really big on the business side of things," Bramly said.

The arena also has capacity for not only student athletes, but community members to utilize as well during tournaments and other competitions.

Keyan College president Jay Notay said the school is proud to be the first esports arena in Alberta.

"We are proud to be one of Canada's first institutions to offer cutting-edge academic programming and innovative space that promotes the growing industry to Wood Buffalo's youth," Notsay said in a release.

Chason Christie, second-year student in the esports management program, said he was shocked when he found out that Keyano College has a esports program.

But his passion for esports pushed him to move from Toronto to attend the college in Fort McMurray.

"I was in awe a school in the west, especially this north in the west would have a [esports program]," Christie said.

"It's amazing how the schools here in Canada have been taking to esports quite well. We're trying to be the best mentor or leader here at the college and hopefully we'll see other schools follow suit because esports is here to stay."