The teams wow gold of China Royal Club, left, and South Korea SK Telecom T1 compete at the League of Legends Season 3 World Championship Final in Los Angeles in October, 2013. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
As many university lectures are transformed for the web and as higher education continues to use more technology in general, an Illinois university has recognized video games as a college varsity sport.
Robert Morris University Illinois, a private college of 7,000 students with its main campus in Chicago, announced this month that it would incorporate online sports organized video game competitions commonly known as eSports into its athletics program.
Beginning in September, League of Legends players will join RMU's athletic department, which belongs to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, as varsity athletes, according to the university.
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 game] elements," according to the game's website.
The game is one of the world's most popular video games with more than 27 million gamers playing each day, according to its developers. Last year, League of Legends gamers competed for $1 million in a national championship tournament at the Staples Center in Los Angeles The tournament sold out the arena's 18,000 seats. began recognizing eSport players as professional athletes by offering them athlete visas to enter the country.
According to Kurt Melcher, associate athletic director at RMU, the university plans to offer approximately 60 athletic scholarships to incoming League of Legends gamers.
According to the university, the scholarship recipients can receive up to 50% of tuition and 50% of room and board up to $19,000 in scholarship money.
Melcher says League of Legends is a competitive, challenging game that requires significant amount of collaboration.
"It is a team sport that requires teamwork for it to be successful," he says. "Mentally, it takes a lot of working together, knowing your role in the team and taking direction from a coach."
Members of South Korea SK Telecom T1 team celebrate with their trophy after defeating China Royal Club at the League of Legends Season 3 World Championship Final in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)
Andrew Dicksen, a rising senior who is studying computer networking and architecture technology at RMU and plays for the university's volleyball team, says he started playing League of Legends in his freshman year when one of his friends from the volleyball team introduced him to the game and got him "hooked," he says.
Dicksen says that he supports the university's initiative, although there has been debate surrounding the decision.
"A lot of the controversy comes since it is under our athletics department, but so was our performing arts program for a while," he says.
According to Dicksen, while some of his fellow student athletes have embraced the athletic department's inclusion of eSports, others are not as thrilled.
"There are a few [student athletes] that are saying that [gamers] do not have to work as hard or prepare as much," Dicksen says. "But once you present your case to them since it's something that is new to them, something they are not exposed to they tend to become a little more understanding or supportive."
Like Dicksen, Warren Ma, a rising senior studying computer science and business at Emory University who has played League of Legends for more than five years, says that he thinks many students and universities generally look down on competitive gaming.
"When a friend and I were at our activities fair, for instance, we received some condescending looks from other students a sign that eSports still probably has a ways to go before it is widely accepted as an 'actual' sport," Ma says.
Next academic year, Ma will serve as president for Emory's eSports club for gaming, he says. He says that before people judge gamers and the idea of eSports, they need to understand and appreciate the skills needed to succeed in them.
"I believe one of the biggest hindrances to the emergence of eSports as a varsity sport is the judgment that people place on games such as League of Legends as just 'silly video games.'" Ma says. "But at the same time, aren't all sports, physical or not, just 'silly games'?"
Brian Bao, a rising sophomore studying computer science and applied mathematics at Cornell University who participates in its League of Legends club, says that sports can be divided into two categories sports that are mostly physical and sports that are mostly intellectual.
"My personal opinion is that if you consider games that primarily rely on strategy such as chess or checkers to be a professional sport, then League of Legends should be treated the same way," he says.
According to Bao, from an outsider perspective, League of Legends seems like a game that people only play for fun.
"Hundreds of people make a living off of this game, the same way people make a living off of basketball. In this sense, I believe that League of Legends is a sport," Bao says.
Gamers can earn money not only through success in championships, but also through big brand name sponsors like Coca Cola.
According to Melcher, the League of Legends team at RMU hopes to compete in the Collegiate Star League, an eSports league that includes 103 teams from colleges across the USA most of which are classified as social clubs including Arizona State University, George Washington University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California Berkeley and Harvard University.
"These eSport athletes on campus will be treated the same way as our men's basketball team," Melcher says. "Just like our men's basketball team generally go out to eat after a game, the same would happen with our eSport team."
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