Video Games Unite Students, Boost Interest in IEEE

Students find holding video game tournaments boosts membership

7 February 2008

What’s better for IEEE members than kicking back, relaxing with friends, and playing video games? Perhaps it’s holding video game tournaments that boost membership. At least that’s what a couple of IEEE student branches have found.

The Halo Tournament at MIT last October featured Halo 3, a popular multiplayer first-person shooting game for Xbox 360. The box allows players to compete against others from around the world thanks to IEEE 802.11 wireless standards. But this tournament was locally oriented; it drew 40 students—members and nonmembers—from MIT’s electrical engineering and computer science departments.

“This was a different social event than others we’ve held,” says Jorge Zuniga, branch chair and a senior who is double majoring in EE and physics. “We promoted the spirit of our IEEE student branch with food, fun, and engineering.” And the tournament proved fruitful: five students who attended joined the IEEE.

  • Held in the school’s computer science building, the tournament had competing teams of three or four students, with their maneuvers displayed on huge screens. The students played futuristic warriors fighting on a distant planet, toting all sorts of guns and grenades in a shootout for survival. And for those who weren’t players, the tournament was fun for spectators, Zuniga says. “Students who don’t play games much, like me, still had a good time watching others compete.”

A MICROSOFT CONNECTION The idea for the tournament came from Zuniga’s friend Christopher Cassa. He is in the Microsoft Student Partner program, which encourages its members to learn about the company’s latest technology and teach others about it. Thanks to Cassa’s Microsoft connection, the company lent the branch several Xbox 360 consoles and donated games to be given away as prizes.

The student branch’s officers handled the rest, setting up the Xboxes, a sound system and projectors, and ordering food and (nonalcoholic) drinks. Plans are under way for another Halo tournament this spring.

MIT’s student branch wasn’t the first to hold such an event. For example, in the fall of 2006, the IEEE student branch at Texas A&M University, in College Station, held a video game tournament, the IEEE Local Area Network Party, or the LAN Party for short. It had teams of students playing Halo 2 (Halo 3 had not yet been released) and another multiplayer first-person shooting game, Counter-Strike. The event was open to all engineering majors and was “an opportunity for them to meet and mingle with IEEE members,” says branch chair Austin McClintock. “Our goal was to broaden awareness of the IEEE across campus.”

“We think that a large percentage of engineering students are game players to some degree, so this was our way of getting them out of their dorms and into a laid-back, fun environment in which to socialize,” he adds.

The students spread the word to great success with flyers and e-mail. More than 75 registered for the party. Some 50 students brought their own computers and loaded up Counter-Strike, a game that pits a team of counterterrorists against a terrorist team. The student branch set up the machines in the lobby of the school’s Zachry Engineering building and built a LAN for the computers. The branch also set up Xboxes to display Halo 2 on projector screens.

Students divided into teams of four and squared off against each other until one team won. Then the four remaining players battled it out until one was left standing. Prizes for the Halo and Counter-Strike winners included iPods and Web domain-hosting certificates.

McClintock, now a fourth-year electrical engineering student, says the event succeeded in broadening the student branch’s visibility on campus. “I know that many more people are familiar with us because of the LAN Party,” he says. “I’m sure that when they see our signs around campus, they take a second look to see what we’re doing.” The branch is planning another tournament this spring.

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