Innovation challenge winner: A new sandbox to play and watch esports in

In January 2020, Northern Kentucky University administration laid down a challenge to students, staff, and faculty, urging them to come up with new ideas and maybe win a piece of $500,000 the university planned to award to worthy concepts.

One of those winning ideas was a new sandbox for students to play in.

The university just opened The Sandbox, an innovation lab and home to NKU Esports, a new varsity sports program that allows students to compete in live video game events, such as Madden NFL or Rocket League, an arcade-style game blending soccer and vehicular mayhem.

The Sandbox will serve as the official arena of NKU Esports and as a hub for students to practice and compete. The space includes 11 state-of-the-art gaming stations and peripheral equipment, as well as monitors for fans to watch live competitions and game replays.

The Sandbox will also be home to a production studio to create video and graphic content for streaming matches and for developing content to promote NKU Esports, such as student shoutcasters, who provide running commentary and live play-by-play entertainment during games.

“All of this will provide students with opportunities to learn skills in streaming and content creation, as well as playing esports,” says Jim Buss, dean of NKU’s Honors College and director of NKU Esports.
The Honors College led a team of faculty, staff, and students to compete in the university's Innovation Challenge. The team received a $75,000 grant to build The Sandbox.

NKU currently supports a varsity program in Rocket League, a soccer video game that uses images of rocket-powered cars to maneuver the ball and score goals.

The university will also be offering scholarships for the first time to students involved in NKU Esports -- both in competitive play and the production of streaming content.

The Sandbox will be open to students involved in the varsity Esports program, as well as students in the NKU Esports Club, who can use the space to practice and compete or hone their shoutcasting and production skills.

All NKU Esports matches can be viewed on

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Read more articles by David Holthaus.

David Holthaus is the managing editor of NKY Thrives, an award-winning journalist, and a Cincinnati native. When not writing or editing, he's likely to be bicycling, hiking, reading or watching classic movies.