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University offers video game scholarship as part of sports department

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A video game user plays XBOX.
Photo by Ben Andreas Harding via Flickr Creative Commons
A video game user plays XBOX.

Robert Morris University in Chicago offers a video game scholarship and considers it part of the sports department. Kurt Melcher, the assistant Athletic Director at the school, shares more.

If you've ever hoped to nab a sports scholarship for yourself or your kid to off-set college costs, here's an option you've likely never thought of: a video game scholarship.

Robert Morris University in Chicago offers just that--and yes, it is part of the sports department.

Kurt Melcher is the assistant Athletic Director at the school and is the brains - and the braun - behind the idea.


Why is playing video games considered an athletic achievement worthy of a scholarship?

This particular game League of Legends has a lot of similarities to traditional sports. You play as a team, you're responsible for a certain portion of the game, you rely on your teammates to be successful and the way these players practice and train, the same work rate is put into this game as, say, a college basketball player.

What goes into practice and training?

We have coaching staff hired so payers will come in after classes and be put in different scenarios, we'll look at game tape from the week before. They prepare their tactics depending on what opponent they're playing. Same as traditional sports.

How did you think of this idea?

I played college soccer way back and I also played video games. I used to play Starcraft and the more I looked into it I saw people played Starcraft 2 competitively and that led me to League of Legends and I didn’t play it previous but I started to and it's a deep game. A lot goes into it as far as strategy, decision making so at our school we give scholarships for a couple non-traditional things like bowling so I thought why couldn't we do this at our school?

How did you pitch this to your bosses?

Every pitch was, "I want you to have an open mind" as a preface and, to their credit, they did.

Not every kid can play traditional sports or wants to do that so why not reward their talents and abilities?

What scholarships does the school offer and what does it take to get one?

Currently we have 35 players. Our varsity scholarship is 50 percent tuition and 50 percent room and board, which compares pretty favorably to other sports scholarships. A second tier varsity reserve is 25 percent tuition.

The coaching staff determines the scholarship. There's an in-game name called the summoner name where you can track—just like major league baseball—the stats and see anything they've done while playing the game. So the coaching staff went through all these summoner names and decided.

Could anyone ever be so good that they get a full video game scholarship, instead of a half scholarship?

Not right now. But that's where I see it going. I think we're ahead of the curve. There's a professional league already for League of Legends and a lot of colleges are playing already on a club basis.

What kind of students are into this?

It's a huge range. We have accounting students, culinary students, business students.

Does Title 9 figure in in some way?

It doesn't because it's not recognized as a sport within the university infrastructure, NCAA or NAIA.

How will recruiting work?

Recruiting will work a similar way. There is a high school star league and we'll be looking for people out of there. Also word of mouth. This is a very connected community. Reddit, that's like the newspaper for them, so we'll post on there.

The high school star league has a final four competition … but almost everything can be done online.

Where is this going to go? Is this something you think is going to be a big part of universities?

I've already been contacted by a number of universities—they asked for anonymity—and there are some major, huge universities asking me about this. While we're the first on the curve, its definitely growing and I think it's something other schools will be adding. In 10 years from now who says NCAA, if they're still around, wouldn't add it?

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