HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Like it or not, esports is becoming a major, multi-billion dollar industry. As it continues to gain more viewers in Pennsylvania, the United States, and around the world, esports is quickly becoming the next professional sports league that everyone is watching on air and online.
Pennsylvania continues to make milestone achievements for the esports community in one fashion or another. A Montgomery County teenager won the largest cash prize ever in an Esports tournament, about $3 Million, over the summer.
In Philadelphia, Comcast invested $50 Million in an esports arena for its Philadelphia Fusion team. Expected to be complete in early 2021, the 60,000 square foot Fusion Arena will be the first facility constructed exclusively for esports events in the Western Hemisphere. It will seat up to 3,500 people, and will be within walking distance of other professional sports arenas like Citizens Bank Park, and Lincoln Financial Field.
With a broadcast studio to boot, the facility is in prime television territory. Philadelphia is the 4th largest TV market in the U.S., and with major networks signing deals with gaming and esports companies, the Fusion Arena could become a trend setter for esports broadcasting in the country.
In fact, Philadelphia has already hosted a major esports championship. The Wells Fargo Center sold out tickets for the Overwatch League Finals back in August, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. That's more than 11,000 esports fans who came to Pennsylvania in September for the event.
Overwatch is insanely popular. The game's parent company, Activision Blizzard, says 40 million people around the world play, 400,000 of who are in the Philadelphia TV market. Fans watch the competitions on ABC, and ESPN, in addition to the Twitch streaming service. So, Philadelphia, the largest city in Pennsylvania, is becoming a global hub for esports in North America.
Meanwhile, west of the Susquehanna River, Harrisburg University is taking the spotlight in collegiate esports. It became the first school in Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic to join the National Collegiate Assocation of Collegiate esports, and started offering 15-full ride athletic scholarships back in October, 2017.
Following the successful debut of the school's varsity esports program, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology has hosted multiple esports championships. The events have drawn competitors from around the state and around the nation.
In September, 2018, H.U. hosted "Hue Fest", or Harrisburg University Esports Festival, the largest collegiate esports tournament in the country. More than 200 esports athletes on 32 Overwatch and League of Legends teams from 21 colleges and universities in the U.S. showed up to the event. Along with musical performances, local and national vendors to make Hue fest a fun event for everyone, organizers expected 10,000 people to show up.
The event was so popular it was actually named a FestX Award Finalist in the Best Esports Festival Category. Among the other finalists were events in California, Portugal, and Hong Kong.
The next year, H.U. hosted the same event again, but changed the name to the HUE Invitational. But the tournament doubled in size, drawing teams from 64 colleges and universities, for a total of 450 esports athletes. Teams came from as far away as San Jose, Calfornia to compete in the event.
H.U. also made Pennsylvania state history for esports earlier this year, when it hosted the state's first collegiate esports Championship. H.U., PSU, and Temple University were among 16 colleges and universities that participated. To boast, H.U.'s Overwatch and League of Legends teams won their divisions.
If that's not enough, H.U. won the inaugural ESPN Collegiate Esports Championship, back in May. Students on the Overwatch team earned scholarship prizing and a championship trophy. This all happened in the team's first year.
H.U. is also becoming one of a select few universities in the country, and the only in Pennsylvania, to offer a Bachelor of Science Degree in esports. Starting in the Spring 2020 semester, students will be able to enroll in classes for esports management, media content creation, and even coaching. So, no, the program doesn't mean students will learn to get better at video games, but to become professionals who work in the growing esports industry.
H.U. Professor Charles Palmer told Fox43 he only expects five students to be in the program this spring, but is hoping 20 will be involved in the fall.
Esports athletic programs are also becoming the norm throughout the state. In January, 2018, Lebanon Valley College started its own varsity esports team. Other big, tech-savvy schools like Drexel University also have esports teams.
Even high schools are pressing play. In September, Fox43 reported on Lancaster Catholic High School's esports team. As teams and esports programs continue to gain popularity, the state of Pennsylvania is helping to make sure everyone can play. Investments in the PAsmart Initiative, launched by Governor Tom Wolf in 2018, include money for projects to support diversity and inclusion on esports teams in high-need areas.