Harrisburg University doesn't fit the template of a varsity sports powerhouse.
The Pennsylvania school has 500 undergraduate students. It has no athletics department. But on Oct. 30, Harrisburg announced that it would field three new varsity teams -- in League of Legends, Overwatch and Hearthstone -- that could immediately compete for some of the better players in the country, thanks to the school's scholarship pool and its plans for a competition space.
"I'm never going to compete with Alabama in football," Harrisburg University president Eric Darr said, "but I'm looking forward to kicking their butts in esports."
That isn't a far-fetched scenario. Of those 500 undergrads, nearly 20 percent participate in the Harrisburg esports club, "by far" the biggest student group at the university, Darr said, and some of the university's 4,500 graduate students take part as well.
That means the team is well-positioned to bring in talent across all three esports titles in its first year. An esports-friendly environment, coupled with Harrisburg's video game development degree, make the school a welcoming venue for potential students.
Harrisburg, which is a member of the National Association of Collegiate Esports, will offer 15 full scholarships for its first sport when it launches in fall 2018. Darr is in the process of looking for head-coaching candidates and seeking a competitive space for the team.
"We have this notion that we'd like, if possible, maybe not initially but in the not too distant future, to have this as a spectator sport," he said. "That means you need a venue and a way of supporting spectators, so those are considerations we're going through right now that I think are beyond what some other universities are thinking about right now."
Several universities have esports facilities, but few have attendee seating or arena-style venues. Darr is hoping Harrisburg can separate itself with its approach, and with a pool of four corporate sponsors already, he is optimistic that the plans will get the support they need.
Harrisburg joins the nearly 50 members of NACE, which is partnered with almost every varsity esports program in the country. The university is just the second in North America to sponsor varsity esports without other varsity athletics: DigiPen Institute of Technology in Washington also does so.
What to watch for
Every Friday, ESPN collects the biggest college esports events in the coming week. Here are some of the competitions you should check out Nov. 11-17.
American Video Game League Smite Championship
Who: Tarrant County College vs. Indiana University-Bloomington
When: 11 a.m. ET Sunday
Where: HiRez Studios Esports Arena, Alpharetta, Georgia
Watch: HiRezTV Twitch stream
This final features two teams that lost only one game each in the tournament stage of the event. Tarrant County, the reigning champion, was beaten by Indiana in the semifinal round-robin stage but picked up the No. 1 seed off a tiebreaker. Indiana lost a matchup against City University of New York-College of Staten Island in that same semifinal pool. Along with how competitive the play will likely be, this series will feature several former Smite Pro League players. IU hunter Isaac "sops" Ramirez and jungler Jonathan "Sheyka" Sheyka make the Hoosiers a tough matchup, even for a Tarrant County team that has a history of sending players into the pros.
National Association of Collegiate Esports Overwatch Invitational quarterfinals
When: 6 p.m. ET Monday
Where: Online event
Watch: NACE Twitch stream
The inaugural season of NACE's Overwatch competition pushes into the knockout stage Monday with a single-elimination bracket format. Georgia Southern emerged from Group A with an undefeated record and the No. 1 seed in the tournament, while No. 2 Miami (Ohio), No. 3 South Carolina-Sumter and No. 4 Trine University all go into the quarterfinals with one loss apiece. The winners will advance to the Nov. 20 semifinal.
Collegiate StarLeague Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Week 5
Who: University of Texas at Austin vs. University of Texas at Arlington and Ryerson University vs. Carleton University
When: 3 p.m. ET Saturday (both)
Where: Online event
Two in-state rivals and Canadian contenders face off this weekend in two of the higher-profile CSL CS:GO matches. UT-Austin and UT-Arlington are undefeated so far this season, and a 4-0 Ryerson squad will hope to keep its unblemished record against the Ravens, who are 3-1 so far this fall.