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National esports convention coming to Harrisburg in July

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Harrisburg University President Eric Darr talks about the investments the university has made into esports. HU will now host the national convention for the National Association of Collegiate Esports.
Harrisburg University President Eric Darr talks about the investments the university has made into esports. HU will now host the national convention for the National Association of Collegiate Esports. - (Photo / )

Harrisburg University of Science and Technology continues to raise the bar for collegiate esports in Pennsylvania.

A week after announcing a state championship event for competitive video gaming, university President Eric Darr on Thursday stood alongside the executive director of the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) to announce that Harrisburg has been selected to host the association's national conference in July.

The three-day event will run July 17 to July 19 with Harrisburg University and the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts hosting leaders from more than 125 member institutions. Harrisburg was chosen from more than 100 cities that submitted bids to host the second-year event, following Atlanta as the host city.

NACE leader Michael Brooks said that Harrisburg University "by far" has been one of the most active members of the association, which serves as a governing body for the rapidly expanding world of esports. He said the university's ongoing initiatives stood out in the selection process for the convention, which should draw hundreds of collegiate administrators, coaches and other industry partners from across the country.

"We want to set the standard and raise the bar," Darr said. "What better way than through a national convention."

Since joining NACE at the end of 2017 — the 50th school to do so — Harrisburg University has invested about $2 million into its esports program. Darr said that investment includes about $800,000 on a 2,300-square-foot training center at Whitaker for the HU Storm players, who also received full scholarships to the university.

In addition to facilities and players, Harrisburg University has been hiring former professional esports players as coaches and creating big spectator events to showcase esports.

Last fall, the university hosted the HUE Festival, the largest collegiate esports tournament to date. The event attracted 32 teams from across the country to compete in League of Legends, a multiplayer battle-arena video game, and Overwatch, a team-based multiplayer video game.

HU finished second in both events. The school, which is promising an even bigger HUE Festival this year, has since been ranked fourth in the country by ESPN among collegiate esports programs.

The PA Cup is coming at the end of March. Darr also is advising a new professional group based in Harrisburg that hopes to develop professional esports teams and competitions, as well as a training academy for esports players and coaches hoping to compete at the professional level.

Officials said the spectator events are not only designed to help draw more people to Harrisburg, which boosts visitor spending in the city, they could also help with recruitment to the burgeoning STEM school.

Harrisburg University is currently in the process of finalizing plans for a new educational tower in downtown Harrisburg.

"Harrisburg University is now known throughout the world," Whitaker CEO Ted Black said of the growing esports platform at the school. "This really allows Harrisburg to punch above our weight class."

Black said the esports partnership also is a way for Whitaker to add new educational programs tied to video game creation, including events on coding and graphic arts. That, too, could bring new visitors to the center.

To prepare for the gaming tournament portion of HUE Festival last year, Whitaker added high-speed WiFi and Bluetooth beacons throughout the facility. Whitaker Center is now in the process of making other IT upgrades that could cost $1.5 million to $2 million, according to Black.

"This will include the construction of a production-quality control room, esports gaming pods, WiFi and Bluetooth technology — all powered by high-speed fiber internet connectivity via our partnership with Comcast Business," Black said. "When complete, these upgrades will further solidify Whitaker Center as a premier esports venue in North America."

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Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin and Cumberland counties. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jscott@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal.

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