Harrisburg University of Science and Technology’s varsity esports team—the HU Storm—hosts spectator events like the Harrisburg Esports Tournament, where 32 varsity esports teams compete for a grand prize pool of $50,000. Esports are no different than any collegiate sport from the perspective of competition: it’s difficult to earn a place on the team. According to Technical.ly Philly, 100 players tried out for 16 spots on the HU Storm team this August.
“We see collegiate esports as an all-around great opportunity,” said a university representative. “Our student players have the opportunity to pursue degrees in today’s hot fields, compete under a world-class coaching staff, and learn in our state-of the-art practice space. Working alongside HU’s student support staff, our coaches teach our varsity players team-building fundamentals, emphasize time management, and connect them with counselors and emotional support.”
Because we all know practice makes perfect, Harrisburg University wanted to ensure the HU Storm had a state-of-the-art practice suite where they could tackle popular games like League of Legends, Hearthstone, and Overwatch.
The university’s staff turned to AV installation partner New Era Technology, whom they had worked with on previous projects. With a trusted advisor in place, it was time to get to work on creating the 2,300-square-foot training facility.
The first task was drawing up the aggressive implementation schedule that would ensure the space was completed before Harrisburg University’s HUE Festival, an esports tournament with 32 teams from 21 universities.
“Time served as the largest challenge for this project,” said John Greene, vice president of sales, New Era Technology. “Harrisburg University engaged us early on to be part of their redesign team, which helped immensely in overcoming challenges up front. The room the training facility occupies had been a complete renovation, and the HUE Festival—the largest esports tournament to date—was housed at Harrisburg University one month after the project was commissioned.”
To start the design process, New Era had to overcome challenges stemming from the size of the space and the requirement that the image displayed on the wall matched that on the player’s terminal. The concern, according to New Era, was how to best translate the fast-paced action of a match to a large video wall with a relatively close viewing distance and a high frame rate.
Because of its ability to present a near-seamless image across a multidisplay canvas, the team at New Era selected Barco UniSee for the video wall. Comprising 17 panels, the video wall accommodates a variety of screen layouts depending on what the players want to focus on. The team can display gameplay of several players during a multiplayer match or get hyper-specific on the progress of one or two players. UniSee’s near-seamless design ensures that regardless of configuration, images remain uniform, which is critical for real-time gaming.
“We needed top quality because of the size of the space, and Barco immediately came to mind,” said Keith Thomas, systems engineer, Harrisburg University. “UniSee allows us the flexibility of different configurations and gives our players exactly what they want to see on the wall.”
A user-friendly Crestron control system was developed that allows for flexible signal routing and content layout on the video wall.
To simplify ordering and troubleshooting, the team needed a distribution solution with integrated signal processing, scaling, and routing to control and support the installation. To ensure the system could handle the high frame rates of simultaneous high-resolution gameplay with zero-frame latency, New Era and the university chose Aurora Multimedia’s IPX series SDVoE 10G AV over IP solution. In total, 39 IPX-TC2 transceiver boxes and four IPX-TC3-WP transceiver wall plates were installed.
“The driving force for selecting this solution stemmed from its exclusive features,” said Greene. “This solution serves as a live esports application in which zero-latency is critical for the viewing wall. This solution also offers the ability to transmit and display 4K resolution that keeps [up] with the demand for fast-paced gaming sessions.”
“Aurora worked very closely with New Era and the university throughout the entire process, from design through the final sign-off,” added Paul Harris, CEO of Aurora Multimedia. “Our technical staff provided on- and off-site support to make sure the system was rolled out as smoothly as possible. With Aurora’s close working relationship with the SDVoE Alliance and our in-house development team, we were also able to quickly deploy new features that were required specifically for this project.”
“Another challenge was the refresh rate the esports gaming platform utilizes, as it was not a traditional setting that we typically deploy,” said Greene. “Aurora Multimedia and Netgear were instrumental in helping us achieve that refresh rate to produce the desired outcome for the university.”
Dante expansion cards were deployed to independently route the digital audio from the gaming PCs directly to the audio processor on the same network and cabling as the video, control, and other data signals.
In addition to the flashy pro AV technology, the training space features 30 HP Omen gaming computers with 24-inch monitors and high-end graphics cards.
The Need for Speed
Internet speed is crucial for gaming—even less than one second of lag can prove fatal for gamers. To address this issue, the school installed additional fiber from Comcast Business.
“Consistent, reliable, lightning-fast connectivity is absolutely critical for our esports program,” said Eric Darr, Ph.D., president of Harrisburg University of Science and Technology. “Slow internet for our gamers is worse than a blackout at a football game because the entire competition may have to be restarted.”
“The technology needs of this incredible facility go beyond just the gaming,” added Toni Murphy, vice president of Comcast Business for the Keystone Region. “High-speed internet from the Comcast advanced network has allowed the Whitaker Center [home of the HU Storm’s dedicated practice facility] to implement seamless e-ticketing, and an easy-to-access Wi-Fi network for fans to stream and post to social media in real time.”
After the AV solutions were selected, the next task was obtaining commitments from the production team and all of the manufacturers that they would be able to meet the rigorous timeline.
“The combination of onboarding the design team early on and being part of the construction team helped keep the projects on track,” said Greene. “Having direct interaction with the client allowed the team to ensure the client’s needs were being addressed to produce the desired outcome. Additionally, support from the manufacturers involved to ensure the products and solutions were showcased appropriately was also critical. The combination of these elements helped to ensure Harrisburg University’s satisfaction.”
As part of its commitment to an on-time delivery, New Era’s project team conducted daily reports and regular meetings to maintain momentum, keeping everything on track and moving forward. Facility access and infrastructure considerations were coordinated with Harrisburg’s general contractors.
“Working closely with Keith Thomas at Harrisburg University and the New Era Technology design team, we were able to come up with an impressive system that met all of their needs while giving them room for future growth,” said Mike Morgan, CTS, general manager, Central PA, New Era Technology. “This facility has become a jewel not only for Harrisburg University, but for the entire collegiate esports community, and I’m proud to say it aided the university Overwatch team to capture the 2019 national championship.”
“Harrisburg University was one of the first universities to be fully vested to esports,” concluded Greene. “This facility has now become the standard for viable esports programs within the higher education vertical market. Additionally, with the team’s national championship win in the first year of the program, the surrounding area has become an eastern hub for esports.”