Bucking the notion that video games use up time that would better be spent outdoors, the nation’s first varsity eSports squad at Robert Morris University (RMU) in Illinois is providing scholarships for students to play videogames. Players at the RMU program play in a specialized room on the third floor in downtown Chicago, calculating click speeds and actions per minute as they don sponsorship jerseys and sit in $400 dollar chairs gaming chairs. For those who have heard the constant refrain from parents to “go outside,” the existence of the new program may provide a bit more than validation of their hobby, it may also provide a college degree.
The online game of choice is League of Legends (LOL), which pits two teams of five against each other in an attempt to destroy the opposing team’s base. Although the RMU players wouldn’t go so far as to call what they do a “sport,” the game requires just as much dedication and practice. One gamer admitted that competitive gaming leaves him more drained than 12 years of playing soccer ever did. Successful teams will study the competition in addition to practicing drills designed by coaches, with some having gone so far as to consult with sports psychologists over Skype.
For those who doubt the validity of the recent trend, consider that more people watched the LOL world championship finals in 2014 than they did for the last game of the NBA finals, or Game 7 of the World Series. Where there are viewers, there is ad revenue. Figures published that year by the developer and publisher, Riot Games, showed that 27 million played the game each day, and 67 million each month. Varsity teams don’t illustrate the entire picture either, with 1,600 club teams from more than 600 schools competing from both the U.S. and Canada.
Following RMU as the first varsity team in the U.S., the University of Pikeville, Kentucky is starting their own team, with many other schools contacting RMU to develop their own eSports programs. Four teams were able to make it to the North American Collegiate Championship finals in May this year, RMU included.