HARRISBURG, Pa. — Tens of thousands of dollars in scholarship money was on the line at the annual Harrisburg University Esports Invitational (HUE 2022), the biggest collegiate Esports event in the country.
The tournament started with 120 teams, 24 finalists traveled to Pennsylvania's capital and competed in the championship weekend.
HUE 2022 represents the elite in the gaming world but is also a sign of how far Esports has come and the potential it has in the collegiate sports scene.
"Much like you'll see football or basketball at the start of the academic year in full swing, this is a great representation for the start of the year for Esports and it's a positive thing for all of us to see and be a part of," said Harrisburg University Esports Director Joe Gramano. "By now we've done this five years in a row, so we've been able to grow a really great community around it."
Players at the tournament said they believe it's the growing accessibility to gaming that has allowed collegiate Esports to rapidly expand throughout the country.
"Students can get a lot more involved because if you're a football team in a college, it's hard for a student to play football with you in the same way, whereas for Esports any student here can come play Overwatch," said Harrisburg Storm Overwatch Player Elijah "Elk" Gallagher. "So I think it's really good for getting the student body engaged and when it's in that space as other sports in colleges, it can only grow bigger."
Coaches said the growing collegiate gaming scene is a great opportunity for players as well.
"The alternative would be to play in some kind of semi-professional league where you're not really bettering yourself as an individual," said Harrisburg Storm Overwatch Head Coach Jack "Shake" Kaplin. "I think having the alternative where they can play and get a degree and work towards a degree without limiting their options in the game is a better system overall."
On top of those who competed at this weekend's event, supporters who attended said they're buying into the collegiate Esports trend.
"It's the build-up of watching them compete to get to this level [that] is really phenomenal," said collegiate Esports fan Stephanie Foraker. "They work really hard, a lot of them [are] on scholarship so they still need to maintain that GPA and spend their time also gaming. You know doing practice scrims, so it's no kidding a sport in college."
This weekend's champions included Illinois State University (Overwatch), University of St. Thomas (League of Legends) and West Virginia University (Rocket League).
For more information on Harrisburg University Esports, click here.