Two nationally known professionals have joined HU’s budding eSports program, in which student-athletes play video games competitively.
Chad Smeltz is the new program director, and Jeff Wang is the head coach, HU president Eric Darr said during a press conference Wednesday.
Together, they’ll build the program – the school’s first varsity sport – “from the ground up,” Smeltz said at the conference.
The two officials also have the support of the college’s administration – Darr is a self-described gamer – and financial backing from a number of sponsors. Locally, D&H Distributing is a sponsor, as are multinational brands Hewlett-Packard and Intel.
The first step for Smeltz and Wang is to get to work recruiting players. “We’re going to be extremely competitive,” Smeltz said.
With state-of-the-art training facilities at the Whitaker Center and 16 full-ride scholarships available, the two men hope to draw student-athletes from around the world, Wang said. The program is set to officially begin with the fall 2018 semester at HU.
Smeltz is a Harrisburg native who is returning home from Los Angeles, where he worked as a coach and general manager for professional eSports teams for the past three years. He began his career as a gamer on the online gaming community and streaming site Twitch and has a degree in secondary education, which he’s looking forward to applying in his role at HU.
Wang’s interest in eSports was piqued when he was young. He recalls watching his brother play internet-based games. A top-ranked player in the game League of Legends, Wang comes to HU from the University of Minnesota, where he was captain of the Big Ten school’s eSports team.
Many eSports competitors participate in gaming communities like Twitch, so one role Smeltz and Wang will play is helping student-athletes promote themselves. However, the athletes will be students first, they emphasized. A key component of their jobs will be to provide structure and support to players to balance academics with eSports obligations.
Ultimately, Smeltz and Wang want Harrisburg to set the standard in collegiate eSports and become the East Coast destination for fans and players alike. Currently, most eSports tournaments are in Los Angeles, Smeltz said.
Darr, Smeltz and Wang also want to get Central Pennsylvania residents excited about eSports. They encouraged questions and open minds from people who don’t know much about the field, reinforcing HU’s “open-door policy,” Darr said.
One way they hope to involve local residents is as spectators. The Whitaker Center‘s digital cinema with its 40-foot screen will host eSports competitions, where spectators can watch the action live.
“For the city of Harrisburg, we want to really make sure we’re going to shine the spotlight on what I think is a really great city with a lot of forward-thinking individuals,” Wang said.
Growth of the program will be a key focus in the future. Darr hopes to bring in more sponsors and develop events like eSports camps. Wang mentioned the possibility of a club team to compliment the varsity team.
Smeltz, who currently teaches an eSports class at the University of California, Irvine, wants to develop a curriculum at HU involving faculty and graduate students in the school’s interactive media department.
“There are a lot of jobs that can be created for eSports, and I’m looking forward to bringing that to Harrisburg,” Smeltz said.