Harrisburg University's varsity esports program hosted a 35-player tryout for players from around the world Friday, with full-ride scholarships to the university for League of Legends, Hearthstone and Overwatch players on the line.
The event, which began Friday at 8 a.m. ET and ran until 8 p.m., came after months of Harrisburg whittling down applicants for its first-ever varsity sport. Of the 35 students participating -- including players from 20 different states, four from Canada, one from Croatia and on from Poland -- 16 will be awarded full academic scholarships. The tryouts were overseen by Harrisburg esports director Chad "History Teacher" Smeltz and head coach Geoff "CentralTime" Wang. Smeltz has previously worked as an in-house manager and head coach for pro League of Legends teams Phoenix1 and Team 8.
"You'll be able to see a mix of both [open tryouts and recruitment] as collegiate esports get even bigger," Smeltz told ESPN. "Open tryouts allows you to field a wide variety of tryouts that helps you find people that might not have initially been on your radar. I think that's important for the health of the program, and when combined with recruiting allows for a healthy pool of prospective student esports athletes to choose from."
Harrisburg, which first announced its esports program on Oct. 30, 2017, has repurposed part of its campus into a small esports facility for the teams. It is a member of the National Association of Collegiate Esports, a governing body for collegiate esports.
Harrisburg's League of Legends team will look to participate in Riot Games' College League of Legends competitions, while its Hearthstone and Overwatch teams will compete in the Tespa Spring Series and Hearthstone Collegiate Champs tournaments, respectively.
With universities including esports more frequently, the level of play for collegiate esports has also increased. Several professional players in games like League of Legends, such as Adrian "Adrian" Ma, Derek "zig" Shao and others, first competed in pioneering collegiate esports programs, like Robert Morris University, before they moved on to professional play. Smeltz said that on Friday, he saw competition similar to what he saw during his time in the pro esports sphere.
"The level of play is extremely high," Smeltz said. "We have multiple top-500 [Overwatch] Grandmaster, [League of Legends] Challenger and [Hearthstone] Legend players in their respective titles, and the players have been extremely passionate about their gameplay. I would put the level of play similar to an Academy or Contenders team, with the ability to beat plenty of the existing Academy and Contenders team with quality coaching.
"The biggest difference is having them understand what it's like to play on a quality team with players they can trust. The players overall are extremely promising in not just their gameplay skill but their communication and academic skills as well."