HistoryTeacher to join Harrisburg University as esports program director

Chad "HistoryTeacher" Smeltz (right) is the former general manager of Phoenix1. Before that, he was the head coach of Team 8. Provided by Riot Games

"HistoryTeacher" is going back to school.

Chad "HistoryTeacher" Smeltz, the former general manager of North American League of Legends team Phoenix1, was unveiled as the first esports program director at Harrisburg University on Wednesday. It's the next big step for Harrisburg, a school of 500 undergraduates which announced back in October that it would be launching varsity esports teams in League of Legends, Overwatch and Hearthstone.

It's also a homecoming for Smeltz, who was born and raised in Harrisburg. He's spent the past three years in California, working as a professional coach and then GM, before deciding to head back east.

"I was curious to see how serious Harrisburg was going to take it, so I took the time to fly out there and toured the school," Smeltz said. "And I realized that they were gonna be taking it very seriously -- that they were gonna be putting a lot of effort and time and money (in), and involving the community, and adding education.

"I compared that to what I was doing in California, and I thought it was a good time for a change, and something I could get behind, that I was excited about. It combined everything that I like -- esports and teaching and education."

It does indeed appear that Harrisburg is taking esports quite seriously. It's planning to offer 15 full-ride esports scholarships, and has also announced a partnership with a local arena, the Whitaker Center, that will include esports matches being broadcast to live audiences on a giant 40-foot screen.

Now Harrisburg has an esports veteran at the helm - someone who has both coached professional players, and handled all the other tasks a general manager performs. That includes everything from waking the players up in the morning, to making sure they take care of business away from the computer.

"Obviously you can't just play games 24/7," Smeltz said. "You need to account for things like food, you need to account for things like wanting to go to the gym, or just getting errands done, stuff like that - letting the players lead real lives too outside of just the game. And I think that (experience) lends itself really well to Harrisburg, because it's a university and [players are] going to have educational aspects outside of esports that they're gonna have to take care of, caring about their grades and things like that.

"It's about being able to manage being an esports professional at the collegiate level, and being able to manage what you want to do with your degree. And I care a lot about both of those things."

Harrisburg has also hired a head coach for esports, Jeff Wang, a former League of Legends player at the University of Minnesota. Wang says the next priority for the Harrisburg program is player recruitment.

"One thing that's amazing about esports is that the talent can come from anywhere," Wang said. "We're gonna definitely be looking domestically, but also internationally at finding players who excel and also will be great teammates."

Smeltz isn't ditching California entirely. He's still planning to teach the online course he had designed for UC Irvine, another school that's invested heavily in esports, starting next month.

"It's called 'An Overview of Esports,'" Smeltz said. "And the general idea is to give students a way to view esports from the lens of as many views as possible.

"Most people think about professional (esports) players, and that's the only thing that they think of. But there are esports organizations, there's professional players, there's media that revolves around esports. There's the production side of things, where people have to operate all of the cameras, and the streams, and all those sort of things. It's basically just to give a student an idea, if they want to move into esports, all the different avenues they can do so in."

It all sounds rather fitting for a former player with the nickname "HistoryTeacher," whose unique streaming approach led to his first professional coaching gig.

"When I went to Penn State I was going to school for secondary education," Smeltz said. "So when I would play video games -- you can talk to people on your team, you can talk to people on the enemy team -- I would give people history facts in the middle of a game, while it was occurring.

"So it would be like a basketball player coming up to somebody and joking around telling them a history fact while they were taking a foul shot, just something silly like that. But I got lucky -- I got super popular [on Twitch] because of it."

Now Smeltz will be making history himself in Harrisburg.