Franklin company in the thick of esports craze

Looking at the plain-looking office in downtown Franklin, no one would know that inside, a powerhouse team in the world of esports is hard at work.

But inside its walls, the staff at Harena Data was hard at work, expanding its reach into the quickly growing field of video game sports. Surrounded by screens, the team edited videos, put together programs and produced a myriad of shows focused on gaming.

Their most recent project is the launch of a forthcoming network, GO PiXLS, which will be featured on 30 platforms and cable television.

“It shows the ability of Franklin to innovate and pivot from traditional industries. That’s really key here,” said Bill Dever, chief strategy officer at Harena Data. “We’re doing some really great stuff in this city, with the construction of the amphitheater and everything the Artcraft is doing. I think Franklin as a center of innovation is really interesting.”

Since its founding in 2017, Harena Data has become a leader in the esports world. The business’ platform has helped organize massive tournaments and competitions at drive-ins, helped the NCAA stage its own esports championship and partnered with the Indiana Soccer Association to form a new league when the pandemic shut down most traditional sports.

“I got into this because I saw how entertainment was evolving, and we know that Franklin is a great place to do this kind of stuff. People aren’t too jaded,” Dever said, noting that the video gaming market has eclipsed television streaming and movies.

Esports has grown into a powerful industry which market experts predict will reach revenues of $1.8 billion by 2022, according to Newzoo, a gaming analytics and marketing research firm.

Powerful names such as Michael Jordan and Drake have gotten involved in the industry. Competitions have been broadcast to huge audiences, including those shown on ESPN. Worldwide audience size is expected to be 474 million viewers this year, with predictions calling for more than 577 million by 2024.

Dever, who has worked for years in the filmmaking world, saw the growing potential of esports. Combined with the increased difficulties facing the film world, he pivoted.

“Movies got tough, so we looked into this,” Dever said.

What started as developing software to accommodate game play and competitions has evolved into a far-reaching look at the world of esports.

Inside their Franklin offices, the team at Harena has set up soundproof production rooms where their features come together. The company owns state-of-the-art cameras, sound mirrors to concentrate recordings and post-production facilities to create programming.

Go PiXLS will be entirely dedicated to esports and gaming, with live events, pre-recorded programs and other features from around the gaming world. The channel should be fully operational in mid-August.

Harena Data also just signed a deal to have programs featured at movie theaters and on video kiosks throughout the country, Dever said.

“They’re all about two minutes long, because we’re focusing on a lot of direct, easily consumable product,” he said.

They organized an esports combine in Indianapolis, virtually bringing more than 1,000 players from around the world to showcase their skills and earn scholarships to university and college programs. Harena is doing curriculum development for schools and youth esports programs, and locally has been involved with teams at Franklin Community and Roncalli high schools, Dever said.

Recently, the company helped support the Canadian Collegiate Esports League, featuring 63 schools competing in different games. Harena provides operations and video streaming for the league.

“There are 400 schools that offer esports as a major across the U.S. It’s becoming endemic as a curriculum,” Dever said.

During the pandemic, Harena looked to fill the gap left by the cancellation of traditional sports. The company helped stage huge, socially distanced competitions at drive-in theaters in Pennsylvania, Louisville, Kentucky, and Texas. In December, they planned a Minecraft family game competition at the Centennial Theater in Sheridan, Wyoming.

And the company’s plans are constantly evolving. On the second floor of their offices, they plan to build an esports facility where competitions could be held in the future.

“All of this out little old Franklin, Indiana. It’s pretty exciting,” Dever said. “I’m really bullish on this town, and this is another example of Franklin doing some interesting stuff.”