League of Legends gamers can now get scholarships

06/27/2014 3:00 AM

07/23/2014 5:18 PM

Say this about Robert Morris University Illinois: It has spunk.

The small, private university in the Chicago area landed in the national spotlight earlier this month by becoming the first school in the nation to offer scholarships to students to play the League of Legends video game in intercollegiate competitions.

The Eagles added this “eSport” — as it’s called — to its lineup of 25 other men’s and women’s varsity teams that compete for the maroon and gold mostly in traditional sports such as football, basketball, soccer and cross country. The athletic department has even added a League of Legends page on its website.

League of Legends is one of the most popular video games in the world, with about 27 million people playing the game every day. According to its website, League of Legends “is a fast-paced, competitive online game that blends the speed and intensity” of a real-time strategy game with role playing. Players control warriors battling it out in a science-fiction-type setting.

Since there’s already a vast pool of high school students playing the game, Robert Morris should not have much trouble finding recruits for this fall’s inaugural season.

The reward: Scholarships that cover up to 50 percent of the price of tuition, room and board. It costs about $22,000 annually to attend Robert Morris, which has about 6,500 undergraduate and graduate students on multiple campuses.

The university expects to field a team consisting of a handful of male and female players — and a coach — to compete in the College Star League. The league is made up of 103 universities, including Harvard, George Washington and Arizona State.

When I first heard the news about gaming scholarships, I rolled my eyes and wondered what on earth would prompt a college president to sign off on scholarships for online gamers. Aren’t there better ways to spend vast endowment funds?

What’s next, scholarships for a YouTube team of videographers to sharpen their competitive skills in e-commerce, marketing and public speaking? Or a Twitter squad for students who are plugged into current events, have large followings and are leaders on campus? Schools might also want to recruit students who play casino games, which teach math and psychology in how players react under pressure.

But the more I thought about it, the more Robert Morris’ financial aid plan made sense.

If the purpose of collegiate sports includes teaching young athletes the importance of teamwork, goal setting and self-sacrifice, well, online games such as League of Legends can do the same thing.

As Robert Morris athletic director Kurt Melcher said, “League of Legends is a competitive, challenging game which requires a significant amount of teamwork to be successful.”

If anything, it’s a brilliant marketing move by the school. Indeed, I counted more than a dozen articles online about the League of Legends scholarship.That’s great publicity.

If you’re the parent of a serious League of Legends gamer, you may want to encourage your teen to keep practicing. After all, there’s an opportunity for a hefty scholarship. I say go for it.

To reach Steve Rosen, call 816-234-4879 or send email to srosen@kcstar.com.

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