Amanda Fidler isn’t your typical athlete.
Yes, she’s dedicated to her sport and has high hopes for a collegiate scholarship for the next academic year. However, you won’t see Fidler hitting a ball or running laps.
You will see her, though, at her computer, practicing every day at such games as “League of Legends,” “Overwatch” and “Hearthstone.”
Fidler, of Philadelphia, is a student at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, and she is working towards earning a valuable scholarship next year as the computer club that she heads morphs into a full-scale varsity sports team.
On the cutting edge of this growing international craze, HU is the first college in the mid-Atlantic to join the National Association of Collegiate eSports.
The Next Move
In the past few years, e-gaming has grown into an explosive cultural phenomenon, attracting throngs of screaming young fans, often dressed in colorful costumes representing their favorite animated characters.
Devotees fill cavernous, darkened arenas in places like Seoul, South Korea, where e-sports clubs dot every street and offer high-dollar prize money. The e-gamers don headphones and compete on a raised stage under the harsh glare of floodlights before a high-powered computer projected onto a huge screen. Thousands of spectators erupt sporadically into cheers and groans, frequently jumping out of their seats as they follow the vibrant graphics and live action.
E-gaming will be HU’s first varsity sport, and the college plans to offer 15 scholarships—three teams of five players each. The scholarship selection process is expected to take place in the spring.
HU President Eric Darr is a gamer himself. He started playing Pong, the most rudimentary of arcade video games, some 40 years ago. Fast-forward to today, when he and his son, now a student at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, often compete against each other in a complex online game called “Civilization,” which requires players to build a society, with all the military, political, artistic, scientific and economic challenges that entails.
Like Darr, Fidler appreciates the stories within the stories in each game and the intricacies that accompany each. She watches video competitions daily, often streaming them on her computer.
“You learn by watching,” said the sophomore student, gleaning new tricks and combinations all the time.
To be a varsity-level gamer, it’s not just about hand-eye coordination. “You have to be good at multi-tasking,” she explained.
You also must be aware not only of the opposing team but of your own teammates. “You’re always looking for your opponent to make the next move,” she said.
A Big Deal
As HU’s e-gaming team is built, school officials are now conducting a national search for a world-class gaming coach. They are also seeking one or two assistant coaches, so the 5,000-student university can field a powerful program by September 2018.
The matches that get played between colleges may be broadcast over an internet channel called Twitch, Darr said. ESPN already broadcasts the “League of Legends” championships, which occurred Nov. 4, and as the competitions become more popular, it is likely that it will broadcast even more, Darr predicted.
HU is also looking for an arena to broadcast the play of its e-gamers.
The competitions are something to see. Five players usually emerge in sweatshirts wearing sponsor patches, much like today’s racecar drivers. They sit behind consoles on a stage. The game loads, they talk strategy, and a color commentator and tactician may narrate. Spectators can watch on a big screen, and important events can even be replayed.
America’s best team is “Cloud 9,” which has its own A-list celebrities, Darr said.
“If you are a gamer, and you understand what you are seeing, you realize, ‘These guys are really, really good,’” Darr said. “They get millions of views already. It’s a big deal.”
He said that e-gaming involves not just finding the best players, but fielding the best team.
“The team aspect is critically important, much like any other sports,” Darr said.
For example, a team with the highest-ranked players in the world recently lost a high-stakes championship because of how they interacted as a team, he said.
“You don’t have to be the fastest person to pull the trigger,” Darr said. “You have to be the one to come up with a unique strategy.”
He said that the newly forming e-sports teams tie in nicely with HU’s academic programs. Some gamers are artists, not techies, but most gamers are passionate technology lovers, he said.
Because scholarship winners must be HU students, he hopes that the best students who want to study science and technology will set their controller on HU.
HU e-gamers will practice often, but it will be limited. Academic standing is a requirement, so gamers can’t play all day, Darr emphasized.
But practice, strategy sessions and white-boarding will occur, sans the Gatorade and sweat towels of a traditional sports practice.
“We think about e-sports and the move into varsity sports as part of the growth and evolution of HU,” Darr said. “It better engages students, and it’s a way for students to feel better about HU and develop a passion for it. It also gets the word about HU out at the national level.”
The team may wind up attracting some of the world’s best gamers to HU, and science-minded whizzes may build a league of legends of its own right here in Pennsylvania’s capital city. Game on.
For more information about Harrisburg University for Science and Technology, visit www.harrisburgu.edu.