Getting a Ride for Gaming

We’ve become accustomed to the idea of people getting college scholarships for playing games like basketball, football, soccer, etc. but we’re probably going to have to adjust to the idea of people getting scholarships for playing video games:

Robert Morris University, a small, accredited private school whose main campus is in downtown Chicago, has taken a different tack—boosting the number of athletic scholarships to more than 700, from 150 a decade ago, in a bid to stem declining enrollment…

Kurt Melcher, the Associate Athletic Director at Robert Morris, dreamed up the idea of a videogame scholarship this past spring when he came across a game called “League of Legends,” Mr. Bensema’s specialty. The online game of strategy and teamwork pits teams of five players against one another in a battle for domination that is sort of like a high-speed digital version of capture the flag.

“I just couldn’t believe how elaborate it was,” said Mr. Melcher…

In October, the League of Legends world championships drew 32 million viewers online. An additional 18,000 fans packed the Staples Center in Los Angeles to watch two teams of five skinny young men click away on their mice—as the game played out on huge screens overhead. When a player died, fans screamed as loudly as if Kobe Bryant had just launched himself from the free-throw line and thrown down a two-handed dunk…

In April, Mr. Melcher submitted a one-page proposal to field a League of Legends team. Two weeks later, the president’s council came back and said they wanted to offer 60 scholarships of up to 50% off tuition and room and board.

“We saw this as a chance to reach kids who might not have otherwise considered us,” said Provost Mablene Krueger. For the school, a significant short-term cost of the program is the new esports arena, a retrofitted classroom with 36 gaming stations that will cost the school about $100,000.

The school received a handful of responses when it posted the announcement on its website. Then the owners of Riot Games, which created League of Legends, posted it on the game’s website. Within 48 hours, the school got 2,200 inquiries from as far away as Gambia, in West Africa. Almost all of them were from males.

A few thoughts:

  • Holy crap, it’s still shocking for a guy like me – prototypical middle aged fantasy football dude – to see the numbers involved with video games. Of course it would make sense to create competitive teams to represent the school, for the same reason it makes sense (if it does) to field basketball and football teams.
  • I’d imagine that the demographic this will reach is an attractive one for schools. 
  • I wonder how long before we see this idea spreading to other schools, especially small schools that can’t afford the millions of dollars it takes to field a football team.
  • While we think of gamers as guys, because you know we don’t often think of girls sitting in the basement eating Cheetos while slaying some Russian kids avatar, there’s no real reason that you couldn’t have coed teams which helps alleviate any need for two teams to conform with Title IX requirements.

Totally selfish thought: if this idea takes off our youngest might be able to get a ride somewhere since he has some serious gaming skills.

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