Ian Alexander was born without a left forearm and on his left side has only one finger, which doesn’t have a fingernail, sprouting from his left elbow.
This didn’t prevent Alexander, a Columbia College sophomore from Blue Springs, from receiving an athletic scholarship at the mid-Missouri NAIA school.
Alexander, 17, is an eSports star, part of the fast-growing online world of competitive video-game playing.
He’s consistently ranked in the top 75 — often somewhere in the 30s — among millions of ranked League of Legends players in North America, putting him among the top 0.01 percent of players on the continent.
Alexander has reached the Challenger tier, which is the highest level possible, under the Summoner name “MistyStumpey.”
“Almost all (other Challenger players) know when they see my name that I’m the guy with one hand,” Alexander said. “A lot of people know me in the North American community.”
Alexander’s ask-me-anything made the front page of the League of Legends’ subreddit, which has more than 900,000 subscribers.
“Most of the comments were pretty positive,” he said. “A lot of the comments were ‘I never thought somebody could be able to do that’ or that it was truly inspiring or impressive and stuff like that.”
Alexander doesn’t let his condition limit him. He taught himself to play baseball, shoot a basketball, and catch and throw a football with one hand.
Alexander, who played soccer for one season at Summit Christian before leaving school to get his HiSET and enroll at Longview Community College, focuses instead on everything he can do.
“Anyone who has a disability has felt that frustration, so I experienced that,” Alexander said. “But being able to overcome it is the most important thing. One of the best quotes that I know is ‘don’t be afraid to fail, but be afraid to not try’ and that’s pretty much what I live by right now.”
It’s made him an inspiration within the League of Legends community.
“There are a lot of people who play League of Legends, and I’ve had a lot of people come talk to me about it online,” Alexander said. “Usually, it’s people who are amputees, who notice me because of how high my rank is. They see my story and think it’s really cool.”
It’s also helping pay for Alexander’s college education.
He is one of 10 players on the Cougars’ inaugural eSports roster after the school started offering scholarships for League of Legends, a multiplayer online battle arena game, last fall.
Game developer, Riot, organized University League of Legends (uLoL) three years ago. More than 350 schools field teams, but fewer than a dozen currently offer scholarships.
“There are about 30 that are going to be jumping on board next year,” Columbia College eSports director Bryan Curtis said.
Three other Missouri colleges — Maryville University, Southwest Baptist and Missouri Baptist — currently offer eSports scholarships.
On Saturday, Alexander ‘s Columbia College team, which reached the uLoL “Sweet 16” this season, will host a $25,000 League of Legends tournament.
The eight-team tourney — which includes teams from the University of Kansas, Michigan, Ohio State, Robert Morris, Maryville, Illinois and Grand Valley State — serves as the centerpiece for the Midwest Campus Clash and Gaming Expo.
The winning team will receive $15,000 in scholarship money with $5,000 awarded to the runner-up and $2,500 awarded to both the third- and fourth-place teams.
The Midwest Campus Clash — which is free and open to the public at Southwell Arena, 700 Rangeline St. in Columbia, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. — will also include the semifinals of the College Starleague’s Madden NFL 17 tourneys for Xbox and PS4, which have a $10,000 prize pool and will be televised on the NFL Network, among other activities for avid gamers.
First-round games for the League of Legends tourney are set for Friday evening and can be viewed on Twitch TV.
Alexander — who started playing video games as a child, because his father, John, was a gamer and discovered League of Legends four years ago — hopes to lead the Cougars to a championship.
Alexander estimates that he’s logged more than 4,000 hours, honing his League of Legends skills and admits that being such a highly-ranked player “gets a little intense.”
Alexander is eyeing a professional League of Legends career and will compete this summer in open qualifiers for the North American Challenger Series and North American League of Legends Championship Series, a pair of professional tournaments for elite gamers.
“It was more for fun when I started,” Alexander said. “Now, it’s more for, I can actually make a career out of this, so it’s a lot more stressful.”