Xaimi's Nerdy Blurbs: HUEFest 2018 Recap

Friday, September 28, 2018

HUEFest 2018 Recap

Xaimi checking in from the first annual Harrisburg University Esports Festival (HUEfest). Collegiate Varsity teams representing at least twenty universities from all over the country filed into the campus main building just after 8am on Sept. 21st to check in for the Overwatch and League of Legends pool play. Security was tight in light of the recent tragedies in Jacksonville, but there were no complaints. One thorough bag check and a wand pass later, and I was free to move about one of the most high tech campuses I have ever laid a foot.

Players, coaches, and spectators roamed between floors eleven and fourteen for orientation, team huddles, and hushed whispers as to what was happening. There was an air of mystery, excitement and confusion. Some students did not know why there were at least forty people in jerseys they could not recognize. Others marveled over team composition diversity; gamers are used to hearing that there should be increased representation for women and players requiring special accommodations. I was proud to see that both demographics were reflected here today. Gamers have come a long way from the 30-year-old in a basement stereotype.

By 9am, there was some concern as to why the games were not underway. A few teams killed time with practice bouts in one of the designated rooms. Before the main pools room filled, I took a moment to savor the gorgeous rigs from Hewlett Packard’s OMEN line. The clear cases and neon lights are the prestige at the end of the trick.

Look at how majestic it is.

The tech troubles were causing games to pause mid-play and although this frustrated everyone present no one displaced the annoyances on their comrades. I was surprised by the composure and professionalism of the invited teams given that varsity esports are still in their infancy and some of these bright-eyed individuals had only been a team for a few weeks; it is a testament to how essential this event’s success is to the community as a whole. Once the games were afoot, everyone present could view the evolving pool bracket results on monitors in hallways, in “the Pit,” and online via Challonge (
Overwatch/League of Legends).

The Pit, one of the main rooms for pool play, swarmed with vendor representatives, sponsors, and newscasters while the players shook some of their rust off. Even the mayor stopped in to spectate and meet players around 1pm.

Archon Clothing had a table set up with school spirit and brand merch. The aforementioned produced both the baseball and compression t-shirt jerseys for the home team, HU Storm. I resisted the impulse buy urges as best I could, but interested parties could also purchase the jerseys online with custom embroidery-- gamertags anyone?

Pools went well into midnight, with both teams and the corresponding crews burning both ends of the candle. With quarter finals starting at 9am Saturday morning, some teams are going to experience a 24 to 36-hour play marathon. Forget skill sets, the next day will be a test of mental fortitude and endurance.

Day 2:

Even a casual gamer knows what it feels like to burn the midnight oil, so it was no surprise walking into a quieter HU this morning. Yours truly was already on her first coffee, cough drop, cold symptoms, and no breakfast by 6:45 am. Players strolling, power-walking, and running into the Pit and 11th floor rooms around 7:45 am were in about the same position, minus the cold. As teams settled at the glowing rigs from before, thoughtful team managers ran to local eateries nearby to grab needed nourishment for their players. HU staff ensured rooms were equipped with several packages of bottled water to keep our would-be stars hydrated. Players needed to focus on the battlefield at hand, as day 2 was serious business:

These were the quarterfinal bouts and, with the exception of technical difficulties, the bouts would start at 8 am on the money. Yup, you read that right. Right before closing my eyes at 3 am the night before, I discovered my timing error. Schools that were not at their computers and ready to play by that time were subject to disqualification and I witnessed one team almost suffer that plight. Verily, the Game Gods smiled kindly upon them and they clicked into battle, mice at the ready.

Anyone claiming gamers are sedentary creatures did not see myself and other media personnel bobbing back and forth between floors to catch different games. I snagged a seat in one of the 11th floor rooms to catch Harrisburg U’s last quarter-final League of Legends game.  For the curious, I was recently introduced to OWL, but I played LoL up until 2014. Thus, I am more familiar with the game mechanics and strategy while my OW could use extensive polish. This was also perfect timing to discuss the game with fellow gamer girls-- one that never played League before, but loved Kingdom Hearts. We managed to use KH mechanics to explain League, so this can go on my list of achievements.
League of Legends Coach Geoffrey "Central" Wang for HU Storm

Storm secured quarter-final wins for both IPs, which meant guaranteed spots in the semi-finals. Would the home team take it to the Grand Stage in Sunoco Theater? We would find out...as soon as I located rations to get me to 10pm.

Day 2.5 A.M. (after meal):

A speed run to the Restaurant-Formerly-Known-As-Dunkin Donuts (I’m not kidding about this. Seriously. Check it out), yielded a run-in with one of the sponsor representatives for HUEFest itself. We discussed gamer woes and joys, such as adjusting to new equipment, changing corporations’ perception of eSports, and our genuine ecstasy to be part of this event. We were briefly separated after acquiring our meals, but we reunited at the gates to the semi-finals throwdown-- aka the Whitaker Center for Science and Arts.

Holy hell. The architect for this building created magic. I had barely fifteen minutes to get to the Digital Science theater for the Overwatch semi-finals, and yet, here I stood gawking on the stairway like a child that found a secret passageway in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. The Whitaker Center is now home to the training room for the HU Storm. The multi-floored building combines science and art in a form rarely captured in balance. It was not until roughly 2012 that video games-- software creations requiring ample rendering engines and artistic backgrounds-- were officially acknowledged as artistic expression. What better home for a collegiate gaming team?

Harrisburg and Bellevue fought for dominance, but the home team took the OW win. There were “pop off” moments for both teams. One that stuck with me was from Bellevue’s team. At one point, I swear I saw Noru peg shot after shot as Hanzo as if he were helping Lil’ Jon lay background vocals.


For those lucky spectators, OMEN by HP had a table of freebies post match. I swung by to say “hi,” then booked it back over to campus for the LoL semis which were due to start at noon. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the last Overwatch final, with Maryville at an advantage, was still underway! Maryville advanced to finals for a fated meeting with Harrisburg later that night.

The next few hours were a blur as the Storm put on a powerful display during the LoL semi-finals. This had Harrisburg facing Columbia University in the finals! Seeing their home team in both finals had local fans in a contagious frenzy. Overwatch was slated to start at 4pm, with League of Legends beginning almost immediately afterward-- both in the Sunoco Theater. Fan reaction would have led you to believe that this was the OWL grand finals, because Sunoco Theater sold out by 200 seats. The center had to open up another theater area so that attendees could watch the bout via live feed. Viewers unable to attend in the flesh could monitor the excitement through Harrisburg University’s official Twitch stream.

Never thought I would include a college and Twitch in the same sentence in my lifetime…

Damn it feels good to be a gamer in 2018.

Akinola Verissimo, our MC for the evening introduced the players of the hour and our shoutcasters Mitch Leslie (Ubershouts) and Robert “Hexagrams” Kirkbride prepared themselves for their first official collegiate OW commentary. The finals were best of two of three sets, with each set consisting of five games. Bloody hell was it close. Harrisburg took the first bout, but Maryville came back with the quickness to tie it up. Almost every game in the sets came down to Overtime or tiebreakers, but Maryville came through with the final score: 2-1. Maryville University was your first annual HUEFest Overwatch Grand Champions. Not only did they win sweet OMEN gear, but the team earned the $25,000 grand prize to split.

League finals began with a great video recap of the previous day’s excitement and a personal word from the Director of Harrisburg University eSports Department himself, Chad Smeltz. Verissimo asked the director how he knew this is what he wanted to do and you could see Smeltz smile from ear-to-ear; he was exhausted as all hell, but seeing this event go from a fledgling idea to a full, organized festival was his defining moment. Thereafter, the last final of the night began with Stephen Johnson and Clayton Raines giving some of the fastest play-by-play commentary I have ever heard. They could have given auctioneers a run for their money.


Speaking of how things were running, the Columbia University Cougars had Storm running under pressure from the first match. The “early game,” i.e. the first five minutes in LoL, can make or break a team and spell inevitable doom if nothing is done to remedy the situation. Unfortunately, despite a strong mid-game comeback in match one, nothing could be done to recoup the field. Game one went to Columbia in a strong showing. After a brief intermission, game two picked up where game one left off; Harrisburg fought hard, but Columbia dominated the playing field to become our second set of Grand Champions for the night!


I left the Whitaker Center that night sick, sleepy, and hungry for more games to watch! Locals and fellow Philadelphia Fusion fans were bummed about the losses, but all I could roll around in my head was how unprecedented HUEFest was...shit...is! Just like Overwatch League season one set a historical milestone, HUEFest etched its own initials in history. Anyone in professional and amateur gaming will tell you that we are still getting used to the recognition. Evolution Fighting Championships (EVO) used to be a crowd of people sardined into a claustrophobia-inducing room with little air conditioning to balance the heatwave a a few CRT screens to huddle around. Now it takes over the Mandalay Bay every year. The closest shooters and MOBAs had to open competitive play in the States were money matches at a friend’s house.

Look how damn far we have come? An entire city opened its arms to the masses and welcomed them into the world of gaming, and people walked right the hell in! Every player, manager, custodian, writer, videographer (wink wink), and fan helped make HUEFest bigger than all of us.

Here’s to next year loves.

Until Later Guys,

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