For teen, playing video games a lot paid off — to the tune of $60,000 toward college

Like a lot of teens her age, Camila Coyle can't remember a time when she didn't spend hours playing video games.

The recent high school graduate recalls sitting on her parent's lap learning to work a game controller long before her legs were long enough for her feet to touch the floor when she sat in a chair.

"I don't have any brothers or sisters so video games was just one way that I would have fun and entertain myself," said 18-year-old Coyle. Her mom recalled having to beg her adolescent daughter away from computer games to come to dinner or to get ready for bed.

As a teen, Coyle got really good.

"I can't play with her anymore," her mom said. "She moves too quickly. I get dizzy."

She also learned to balance game time, homework and socializing with friends with greater ease.

Still she had no idea then, nor did her parents, that video game play would be her ticket to college, and to the pursuit of the career she's hoping for in graphic design.

This spring, just before graduating from Kansas Connections Academy, Coyle, was signed by Missouri Valley College as the newest member, and the first female on the school's competitive eSports team.

The signing came with a $15,000-a-year athletic scholarship for the next four years.

When she found out Missouri Valley wanted her on its collegiate team and was offering her money to accept it, "I cried," Coyle said. "My mother, she cried, too."

Getting a scholarship, Coyle said, was "pretty important to me, to be able to help my parents out paying for college."

Coyle said her grades, were pretty good, but not academic scholarship level.

Who knew a teen could get an athletic college scholarship by being a standout gamer? Not Coyle. Not her parents.

"I had never heard guidance counselors talking about anything like that," said Coyle's mom, Kiara Coyle, a former high school teacher.

"I had to do my research to make sure this is something that really exists," Kiara Coyle said. "When you think about athletic scholarships you think about football, basketball, swimming — not video games."

Her daughter is pretty skilled, though.

Coyle has a diamond ranking which puts her above bronze, silver, gold and platinum but below master and grand master, which are pretty much reserved for the professional gamers, who can earn upward of $15,000 for winning an eSports event.

The truth is eSports, composed of several different computer games — League of Legends, Counterstrike: Global Offensive, Hearthstone, Overwatch and Dota 2 — is the fastest growing spectator sport in the world. Forbes reported earlier this year that the latest data has marketing researchers predicting 2018 eSports revenues will explode to nearly $1 billion, "a staggering increase," over 2017’s $756 million.

Five years ago Newzoo, a marketing agency for entertainment, technology and media companies, estimated that about 71.5 million people worldwide were watching competitive eSports. Last year at the eSports League of Legends 2017 world championships, fans filled the largest stadium in China; the Beijing National Stadium, or The Bird’s Nest, which was a site for the 2008 Summer Olympics. It has a capacity for 91,000 spectators.

On the collegiate level, more than 80 colleges and universities — including Division 1 schools — with competitive varsity eSports teams, are members of the National Association of Collegiate eSports. That's nearly double the membership the non-profit eSport organization had at the start of the year. Not all the collegiate eSports teams are members. NACE officially formed two summers ago at the first ever Collegiate eSports Summit, held in Kansas City.

Forbes reported in January that "While video games are getting more viewership from the 18 to 25 age demographic in the U.S. than the NBA Finals or the World Series, the scholarships are nowhere in the ballpark of those given to," traditional college sports athletes.

Coyle's $15,000 a year scholarship is on the high end. Forbes says most tend to hover significantly lower, around $2,000 to $5,000.

Perhaps that's why Coyle didn't hesitate to accept the Missouri Valley offer. That, and the surprising way her coach Patrick Ocampo, sought her out.

In January, Coyle was live-streaming play of Overwatch, her current game of choice. At the same time, Coyle was engaged in a group chat with gamers and fans who were watching her ply her gaming techniques.

Overwatch is a team-based, multi-player, shooter video game developed by Blizzard Entertainment, that launched in 2016 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One,and Windows.

It's a game of strategy played by teams of six.

Coyle has friends who really get into watching game play.

"It's interesting to see all the work that's put into these games: the graphics the music," Coyle said. "The whole experience is like watching a movie; you get immersed in the story."

Coach Ocampo tapped in to her chat and live-stream.

Right on the spot, Ocampo offered Coyle a spot on Missouri Valley's first varsity eSports team this year. He made the pitch in the group chat.

"At first I felt weirded out," Coyle said. "I never thought a coach would be joining my group chat. I couldn't believe it," Coyle said.

Playing at the level she does, Coyle knew about professional gaming and that it's "really big," but she had no idea colleges were recruiting players right off line in the midst of play. It's becoming more common as coaches hunt for the best high-school gamers.

After getting a chance to play with the Missouri Valley team and visiting the school in Marshall, Mo., she was satisfied. "I got along with everyone on my team."

Being Missouri Valley's first female member, Coyle is breaking new ground for female gamers. In February, the Overwatch League signed its first female player to the professional eSports team, The Shanghai Dragons.

Coyle's two or three-hour eSports practices with her teammates may not be physical, sitting in front of double computer screens in her bedroom at her home in Overland Park, but they are intense. Her left hand works a keyboard, her right hand manuvers a mouse. The whole time Coyle is talking to teammates and listening to them through her headset.

Ocampo sees Coyle as a top recruit.

"She is one of the best players we've seen," Ocampo said. "She has been playing this game for a long time. It takes mental toughness. She has that."

Missouri Valley has a total of 20 eSports players on its team so far, and "the school has made a big commitment," Ocampo said, to the eSports athletes they are recruiting.

This year the school constructed a new building to house the eSports game center, featuring state-of-the-art gaming computers and large screen TVs.

Ocampo said he's still looking to add e-athletes and is trying to convince a few other females to join the Missouri Valley.

"Most of the recruits are high school students from a generation that grew up playing video games and now they are seeing collegiate scholarships and seeing gaming go professional, and they want to play."