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Harrisburg University, Whitaker Center unveil esports training facility

After hosting the largest collegiate esports tournament in the country in September, Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts has quickly expanded its esports infrastructure.

The Harrisburg science center and Harrisburg University of Science and Technology on Thursday unveiled the latest piece of their esports partnership — a dedicated training facility for the university’s varsity esports program. The facility is in Whitaker.

“It’s something that should be in a science center,” said Ted Black, Whitaker’s president and CEO, who sees potential to draw people to Harrisburg as competitive gaming becomes more popular, especially among college students.

The esports market is a budding billion-dollar industry with millions of competitive players and money pouring into professional esports leagues featuring franchise teams and sponsorship deals.

The Storm players at Harrisburg University began playing together this summer. The new training facility will give the team, which currently has 16 scholarship students, a centralized practice hub. 

The training facility is in a roughly 2,300-square-foot space in the lower level of the downtown science center that was renovated over the summer and early fall. University President Eric Darr said $600,000 was spent to renovate the space. Another $200,000 worth of fixtures, furniture and gaming equipment was donated by corporate sponsors of the esports team. They include HP, Intel and D&H Distributing.

Chad Smeltz, director of esports at Harrisburg University, called the new space a step toward making the esports program a success. Harrisburg is on the national map for esports because of the recent esports festival, where $50,000 in prize money was awarded to the winning schools competing in League of Legends, a multiplayer battle-arena video game, and Overwatch, a team-based multiplayer video game.

The training facility features 30 gaming computers with 24-inch monitors and high-end graphics cards – set up by HP Omen – as well as ergonomic gaming chairs from Respawn. The space will be used for practices and scrimmage situations. 

The training space, which was designed by Murray Associates Architects of Harrisburg, has segmented areas for each team, but the overall facility is open for greater collaboration. The space also has a 17-screen video wall at the front that brings gaming worlds to life.

As part of facility upgrades this year to accommodate esports events, Whitaker spent about $500,000 to add high-speed WiFi and Bluetooth beacons throughout the center.

Harrisburg-based Reynolds Enterprises Inc. handled the renovation for the training center. The space was previously used as a second stage for concerts at Whitaker. The space has largely been idle over the last few years, Black said.

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