Until recently, the word “e-sports” was practically unknown in the Harrisburg area.
Then Harrisburg University fielded its high-profile e-sports team, the HU Storm, which quickly became one of the top collegiate teams in the country.
Now comes the next step—the city’s first professional e-sports team—the Susquehanna Soniqs.
“We hope to make Harrisburg a premiere location along the mid-Atlantic,” said Charles Palmer, a member of the leadership team for Susquehanna Esports.
Palmer is a professor at Harrisburg University, and he already works with the HU team, which recently brought home a national championship.
HU President Eric Darr is also part of the new venture, as is Robert Ortenzio, co-founder and executive chairman of Select Medical Corp.
“Professional e-sports already is a more than $1 billion industry across the globe, yet there is relatively little e-sports activity along the East Coast,” Ortenzio said. “Nothing like this currently exists. And this group will transform Harrisburg into an industry hub.”
Millennials and Gen Z-ers may be familiar with the concept of e-sports, but some older folks (like this author) are left scratching their graying heads about what exactly it’s all about.
E-sports is a term used to describe video game competitions, and it involves a lot more than you might think.
“I’ve heard a lot of parents lament that their kids spend too much time on this, but really, it involves a lot of skill and strategies,” Palmer said. “E-sports uses problem-solving, critical thinking and team building.”
Like athletic sporting events, e-sports games often are played before live audiences and/or broadcast over the internet. In fact, an e-sports match is run much like an athletic event. Games are officiated by referees, and players must follow rules. Sportscasters often comment on the proceedings in real time.
You can trace the roots of e-sports back to the 1980s, when gaming tournaments first were held in arcades. In the 1990s, video game competitions moved to auditoriums and other large venues as console gaming grew in popularity.
Since then, the internet has allowed players to compete from remote locations, heralding a new era of e-sports. Today, professional video game players like the Susquehanna Soniqs compete in pro games with cash prizes. Tournaments are sponsored by technology companies or earn revenue through live tickets sales and online viewing subscriptions.
Here in Harrisburg, the Suquehanna Soniqs are a 10-member team ranging in age from 15 to 29.
The team is split into two games, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, a tactical shooter video game, and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, a multiplayer online battle royale game.
The Soniqs began their inaugural season at HU, but plan to relocate to Susquehanna Esports’ new, 3rd Street headquarters in Harrisburg’s SoMa neighborhood once renovations there are complete.
The team recruited “extremely high-ranked players” from all over the United States, as well as Canada and Australia, said Darren Moore, the general manager who was brought in last year to oversee day-to-day operations. Players practice about five hours each day and spend another five hours in theory sessions.
“It’s a very time-consuming job,” Moore noted.
Lauren Williams (aka Goddess) plays in the Soniq’s Rainbow Six Siege division. The 22-year-old was recruited by Moore and relocated to Harrisburg earlier this year from her hometown in Iowa. Williams said that she comes from “a sports background” and has been playing video games since she was 5 years old.
She first played with a professional team based in Los Angeles, but, growing up in rural Iowa, didn’t enjoy being in a major metropolis. Harrisburg turned out to be a happy medium for her.
“I like e-sports because it’s inclusive and you don’t have to be 6-foot-4 or 250 pounds to play it,” said Williams, the only female Soniq.
Williams holds a bachelor’s degree in business but decided to pursue professional e-sports when “the opportunity came up a year and a half ago,” she said.
“I like its competitive aspect, and I like its social side,” she said.
Moore, the GM, firmly believes that bringing the “up and coming” field of professional e-sports to Harrisburg will benefit the area’s economy and culture.
“I personally want to bring people to see Harrisburg,” Moore said. “I want to give people a reason to come here.”
For more information about Susquehanna Esports, including team schedules, visit www.susquehannaesports.com.