Case Study - Harrisburg University

The year is 2018...

The stunning Whitaker Center in Harrisburg, PA

The stunning Whitaker Center in Harrisburg, PA

Cinema screens play scenes to a crowd of nearly no one, and movie theaters conspire the next evolution in entertainment. Meanwhile, the gaming industry has burst from America’s teenage bedroom and into an spectator phenomenon (last year the industry made more than the film industry). And if that's not enough, the same video games that parents were so worried about are now grounds for a college scholarship. As the esports industry continues its development as a college sport, they’ll be looking for venues that bring the industry out of the bedroom and onto the biggest screens in the country.

The Whitaker Center in Harrisburg, PA is a prime example of the evolving that theaters undergo to reach this esports audience. The Whitaker is an arts and science center that brings in a combination of educational and cultural content to its audience. On one night, a 3D exploration of America’s National Parks. The next night, a show from singer songwriter Don Mclean. While millenials do enjoy staples of American culture such as these, something else has gotten their attention. That something? Video games.

CEO and President of the Whitaker Center, Ted Black looks at the center’s need to reinvent itself in light of the culture’s forecast. The main theater seats 400, all facing a 38’x80’ foot screen, a theatrical experience unmatched on Pennsylvania’s entertainment stage. As a student of sports business and a former executive of two NHL franchises, Black’s two passions, screen and sport collide to provide the “next” for this east coast venue.

With a hockey background, Black likes to quote Wayne Gretzky, and Gretzky used to say, “Don’t go where the puck is at. Go where it’s going to be.”

Don’t go where the puck is at. Go where it’s going to be.
— Wayne Gretzky

To Black, where the puck is going to be is in the esports gaming industry, and the center has made accommodations to host a local university as they prepare for their inaugural esports season. This local school, Harrisburg University, is now the 50th school in the US to join the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE). Black’s move to screen collegiate esports will renovate the center, and reposition them in relevance towards a wider audience.

“We’re transforming the capabilities of our Select Medical Digital Cinema inside Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts to become the premier live viewing experience for esports fans,” Ted Black said in an interview in May of this year. “On the east coast especially, nothing exists right now in the form of a complete esports arena space, but we’re going to change that.”

Whitaker stage.jpg

On the university side, Harrisburg is recruiting for the best college age gamers in the world, giving out sixteen scholarships for perhaps the most uncommon reason we’ve heard in the admissions office: “What’s your current killstreak on League?” The team at Harrisburg will play three of the most popular, spectator engaging battle games on the market, and play them to a sell out crowd in a quickly evolving Art and Science center.

Jeff Wang, Harrisburg’s new head coach, said in a recent interview that games have been chosen according to their popularity as well as their spectrality. “These events will come complete with broadcasters and an easy to follow sequence to give even those that are new to the gaming world an easy way in.”

Whitaker CEO Ted Black feels confident in the center’s new use for their state-of-the-art theater, and the theater will now host HU’s training and competition as they play other collegiate teams in the country.

With over 50 universities now involved in the collegiate esports scene, these schools will be looking towards early adopters like the Whitaker Center to fill the space between video games and venues. In an improbable turn of events, gaming is now a university sport, worthy of scholarship, and coming soon to a venue near you.