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Why One School Is Giving Out League of Legends Scholarships

As competitive games become more popular, Chicago's Robert Morris University wants to attract the young talent dumping hundreds of hours into them.

If there's a sure sign eSports is moving into the mainstream, it's recent news of Illinois private school Robert Morris University (RMU) becoming the first university to offer scholarships for League of Legends.

The sheer popularity of League of Legends means schools are finally starting to take competitive gaming seriously.

RMU associate athletic director Kurt Melcher has been playing games for years, though it's dropped off. The 45-year-old used to love StarCraft, and one day found himself nostalgically looking up the game.

"I was like 'well, I wonder what ever happened to that game?' I was out of the loop," said Melcher. "I didn’t know there was a StarCraft II! I looked into that, and I saw it was played competitively, collegiately, and professionally. I thought 'Wow, that’s really neat!' That lead me to League of Legends."

Just as Melcher had no idea StarCraft was competitively played by millions in the United States and beyond, he was equally floored by how how many had flocked to League of Legends.

Earlier this year, League of Legends developer Riot Games announced the MOBA has more than 67 million players monthly and 27 million players daily, with at least 7.5 million playing simultaneously during peak periods. Just two years ago, that number was 32 million players monthly, 12 million players daily, and 3 million concurrent players. It's clear League of Legends is only getting bigger.

As Melcher continued his research, he started mulling a seemingly crazy idea: make League of Legends part of RMU's athletics program. League of Legend's team-centric nature helped cement the pitch.

"I told my athletic director, 'I’m gonna bring an idea to you, and I want you to be open minded.'" he said. "She was! [laughs] There’s a little buy-in [with it], but once you explain it, what goes into it, and what it’s like, it has all the same elements as traditional sports do. It fits hand-in-hand."

RMU revealed its scholarship program in June, looking to recruit students for the September school term. Melcher has been overwhelmed with applicants. When the school signed off, it tasked him with building a single team. More than 3,700 people have inquired about the program, resulting in more than 130 applicants. Now, Melcher is putting together 30 varsity players and 30 varsity reserve players.

When someone emails about the scholarship, the school's application fee is waived. During that process, RMU asks for their summoner name, which is what players go by in-game. This allows RMU's League of Legends coach to look up and vet the match rankings and statistics for prospective students.

At first, Melcher downloaded League of Legends to understand the game, but he's hardly an expert. Before RMU went forward with the scholarship program, it got in touch with Riot Games. The studio was happy to help. RMU was looking for someone within the community to give its program legitimacy, and Riot had just the guy: known recruiter Ferris "AGeNT" Ganzman. Based in Chicago, Ganzman was the perfect fit.

The RMU scholarship itself can cover up to 50% of tuition and 50% of room and board for students. In other words, nearly $20,000. The varsity players can qualify for more than the varsity reserve players.

Melcher admitted it's taken some convincing for students in more traditional sports.

"Once you talk to, say, a basketball player, [and] I explain it to them, [the response is] 'yeah, makes sense, if that’s what they like to do, why not have an opportunity?'" he said. "Playing within a team and destroying nexuses is no more valid for an indication than putting a ball into a net or a ball into a goal when you break it down, really. What’s the difference there, academically? It’s doing something that you love and are passionate about and combining that with a rigorous [academic] experience. I think it goes hand-in-hand."

The terminology surrounding competitive games can sometimes cause a reaction, though.

"I told my athletic director, 'I’m gonna bring an idea to you, and I want you to be open minded.'"

"There’s no cardiovascular element to it," he said. "I think we all can agree with that. [laughs] But people call bowling a sport. But there’s a skill involved, right? There’s not, cardiovascularly, a whole lot, but it’s a technique, it’s a skill. Same with League. Golf falls around there. [...] But it’s an eSport. It’s an online sport, but there’s definitely a strategy element, teamwork. All those fall inside of that."

Melcher and Ganzman comprise the eSports department at RMU, but it might expand in the future. League of Legends is hardly the only competitive game around, and Melcher acknowledged that. Right now, the school is building what it's calling an "eSports arena" for students to practice and compete in.

"The League players aren’t going to just be stuffed in a computer lab on only off-hours," he said. " [...] It’s going to be awesome. I feel confident saying it’s going to be the best eSports arena university in the nation. Because it’s probably the only one. [laughs]

(Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

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63 Comments
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Posted by Dberg

Good for them. I find it odd that Melcher pushed to get it approved when he was on the outside looking in at "esports" and League in particular, but then again, you don't have to play a sport to tell if you like it.

Posted by Shaka999

I'm really curious to see what that eSports arena winds up looking like.

I still find all of this odd, but at the same time I would love to see it take off from here.

Posted by LarryDavis

Because the money they rake in from all the idiots who are Super Serious About Mobas will far outweigh what they're paying out. THE END.

Posted by KarlPilkington

I think I need Saved You A Click for this title.

Posted by Jpope

How long will it take for video games to be commonplace at a collegiate level? I can't wait for the video game cheerleaders. That is something that has been needed in gaming for a long time now.

Posted by slyspider

Lots of backlash against this from people who think E-sports is not a real thing. I don't really understand why they are so against it, it doesn't effect them and the money is there to be made for those who succeed. League is the obvious first choice for this type of thing because of how much bigger it is than DOTA, but I wouldn't be shocked to see DOTA get something like this within 3 years.

Also holy shit a League article on GB, wtf the gestapo will be here soon to take us away

Posted by cyberfunk

So is this a reputable school? This smells of a publicity stunt.

Posted by Trylks

There seems to be a lot of LOL in this story.

Posted by JasonR86

I wonder where the money is coming from. Also schools usually give scholarships because of what those students can offer the school (either recognition, research, prestige through academic scholarships or money, prestige with athletic scholarships). There's no system set up, like the NCAA, to allow for a revenue flow. So I suppose recognition and prestige? Maybe they think that the cost to pay for these scholarships, wherever the money is from, is a small hit to take if it leads to an increase in new freshmen and grants/donations from new sources.

Posted by Yesiamaduck

@jasonr86 said:

I wonder where the money is coming from. Also schools usually give scholarships because of what those students can offer the school (either recognition, research, prestige through academic scholarships or money, prestige with athletic scholarships). There's no system set up, like the NCAA, to allow for a revenue flow. So I suppose recognition and prestige? Maybe they think that the cost to pay for these scholarships, wherever the money is from, is a small hit to take if it leads to an increase in new freshmen and grants/donations from new sources.

I guess they're eyeing up the prize money from competitions if they form a team to compete.

Posted by JasonR86

@yesiamaduck:

Maybe. But there could be an ethical problem there. It's my understanding that e-sports teams get all the money from prizes and whomever owns the team doesn't. The owner makes money on sales of their actual product or see the team as advertising to increase sales elsewhere. The school probably can't take any money from the prize pool and, unless they hold an event themselves, they probably won't make money directly from the sport itself. Maybe if they sell merchandise?

Posted by Yesiamaduck

@jasonr86 said:

@yesiamaduck:

Maybe. But there could be an ethical problem there. It's my understanding that e-sports teams get all the money from prizes and whomever owns the team doesn't. The owner makes money on sales of their actual product or see the team as advertising to increase sales elsewhere. The school probably can't take any money from the prize pool and, unless they hold an event themselves, they probably won't make money directly from the sport itself. Maybe if they sell merchandise?

I guess merch and sponsorship would be one way to go. I'm not American myself so have a very lose understanding of college sports and how they raise money.

Posted by Hyuzen

Holy crap, I went to a private university in Canada and everyone complained about tuition being about $20,000, I can't imagine how much it would suck for that to only be half of your education costs.

Posted by Sydlanel

I'm very torn about this. On one side, good on them for doing that, recognizing a potentially new market and being ready to at least experiment with it, and I suppose good on any e-athletes that will be benefited by it.

On the other side, I don't know if this is is just a publicity stunt.

In any case, having played LoL and Dota, and other Mobas, and having interacted with the community on a mid-high tier, the prospect of actual professional Game Jocks... scares the crap out of me. I don't want ANY of that in my lawn.

Posted by JasonR86

@yesiamaduck:

The NCAA is the big organization that oversees all college sports in the US. They, along with colleges, have broken up schools by region and size. So in college football, for example, a big university most often play other big universities located in the same general area of the country.

For all sports there's some end game, such as tournaments and championship games, that teams compete to enter during their regular season. Schools make money off sports through ticket sales during these games, merchandise sales, donations, and if they enter the 'end game' games they get a big pool of money that they split up among the other schools in their region (and even more money if they win that game).

E-sports as of now, at the collegiate level, doesn't have anything like that.

Posted by TheSouthernDandy

Hey why not, if a school is gonna offer it that's cool. Also hey someone at Giant Bomb talking about League. Will wonders never cease?

Posted by TehBuLL

Eh that picture is old. Note the Robert Morris *College* part. They've been a University for at least 2-3 years now. I work in the area and walk by that building everyday thats all. Could care less about the actual topic.

Edited by Semi_Sauce

@tehbull:

Could care less about the actual topic.

and yet you commented anyway.

Posted by Vigorousjammer

Kind of odd that this is happening before e-sports has become a legitimate profession.
I mean, sure, there's the international, but how many professional gamers are getting a steady salary?

I would have expected e-sports to get on TV long before any of this happened.

Edited by EXTomar

Non-scholastic scholarships are always funny and I'm not entirely convinced that any university should bother with these. But if they are going to allow them then why not for any game?

I can't wait for the NCAA to try to get in on this and claim that "student athletes shouldn't get paid to protect the sanctity of game". :)

Edited by Borklund

What's next? "One weird trick they don't want you to know about"?

Posted by Sniper26

Kind of odd that this is happening before e-sports has become a legitimate profession.

I mean, sure, there's the international, but how many professional gamers are getting a steady salary?

I would have expected e-sports to get on TV long before any of this happened.

You should definitely read up more about eSports. The international is not the biggest tournament, League of Legends worlds is. It might not have had or will have the prize money, but it is bigger.

Also, LCS (League Championship Series, the North American Tournament circuit) pros do get a salary plus prize money. They do now have legitimate jobs with a legitimate salary. Now, how long that will last is anyone's guess, but if I were a betting man, I would bet that eSports is just going to get bigger and bigger the older "kids" get.

Posted by Vigorousjammer

@sniper26 said:

@vigorousjammer said:

Kind of odd that this is happening before e-sports has become a legitimate profession.

I mean, sure, there's the international, but how many professional gamers are getting a steady salary?

I would have expected e-sports to get on TV long before any of this happened.

You should definitely read up more about eSports. The international is not the biggest tournament, League of Legends worlds is. It might not have had or will have the prize money, but it is bigger.

Also, LCS (League Championship Series, the North American Tournament circuit) pros do get a salary plus prize money. They do now have legitimate jobs with a legitimate salary. Now, how long that will last is anyone's guess, but if I were a betting man, I would bet that eSports is just going to get bigger and bigger the older "kids" get.

Oh man, that's pretty awesome! I haven't heard about any of that. Seems like things are progressing. I'm with you, I bet even in just as little as two years, we'll see more and more leagues popping up with professional salaries for competitive gamers.

Posted by GalacticPunt

@jasonr86: My conjecture is that since they are a private college that recently expanded to being a private university, they need to get their name out there and bring in a lot more students. So a scholarship paying half the tuition of a few dozen students will get press like this, and make thousands of the millions of teenage LoL players aware of the school. Out of them, there might be hundreds more kids who end up enrolling in the first university cool enough to do this. That's the only way I see the expenditure making sense.

Posted by Branthog

First, we all know the reason this was done. Promotion for the school. Duh.

Second, it's kind of ridiculous that the idea was brought before the athletic director. Does the athletic director also make determinations for the debate team and the chess team and the school robotic's team?

<rant>I like esports, but I hate the term esports. I heard some podcasters last week who were pretty fucking full of themselves as they ridiculed people who "claim video games are not a sport, because a sport is physical". These podcasters are professional journalists who are paid to write. Presumably, words should matter to them and the definition of 'sport' begins with "an activity involving physical exertion..."

Reminds me of people who get pissy when people say that content made using what are traditionally video game tools are not games, like Gone Home. They get really defensive and swear that you are wrong for suggesting it isn't a game, even though by definition, a game is an activity or competition in which the results are determined by skill, luck, or strength. A book, movie, or short virtual reality experience is decidedly not a game if it does not have any relation to one of those traits.

I don't know why people in both of those camps are on such a high horse. Why they're so defensive. Why they're so insistent that they should be defined by words which inherently contradict the events they're wanting to label with them. Gone Home is a good experience and well crafted, even though it isn't a game. Saying it isn't a game doesn't somehow strip it of its value or enjoyment or meaning. Same with "esports". Competitive video games are fun to watch and participate in and follow. I hope they become huge and I would like their presentation to become more polished and informative and inclusive. But they're gaming competitions; not sports (even if, as these podcasters/journalists asserted, using your finger to click a mouse button is somehow a physical exertion).</rant>

I think that people using video game tools to make "experiences" demanding that they be called "games" and competitive video game players demanding that they be considered "sports" is something that will be detrimental to both their causes, ultimately. Both want some sort of short time benefit of being associated with these other things, but they are not these things and down the line, they will find themselves severely constrained by limitations that come with being considered sports and games rather than their own things. By the time they come to this realization, it will be too late to do anything about it.

Posted by pause422

Wow that seems entirely pointless.

Posted by mekon

@tehbull:

Could care less about the actual topic.

and yet you commented anyway.

But he said he cares about it. Good for him.

Posted by oraknabo

Makes as much sense as any other sports scholarship.

Posted by CorruptedEvil

I think I need Saved You A Click for this title.

Yeah really.

Online
Posted by Carlos1408

I must say that is awesome!

Posted by Debigulator

You really need to stop doing these buzzfeed headlines, Patrick.

Posted by nemesis208


The money is coming from these scholarship recipients and the rest of the students of RMU. The scholarship covers half their tuition, the school is still making its profits, just at a lower rate from these guys.

@jasonr86 said:

I wonder where the money is coming from. Also schools usually give scholarships because of what those students can offer the school (either recognition, research, prestige through academic scholarships or money, prestige with athletic scholarships). There's no system set up, like the NCAA, to allow for a revenue flow. So I suppose recognition and prestige? Maybe they think that the cost to pay for these scholarships, wherever the money is from, is a small hit to take if it leads to an increase in new freshmen and grants/donations from new sources.

Posted by nemesis208

@jasonr86 said:

@yesiamaduck:

The NCAA is the big organization that oversees all college sports in the US. They, along with colleges, have broken up schools by region and size. So in college football, for example, a big university most often play other big universities located in the same general area of the country.

For all sports there's some end game, such as tournaments and championship games, that teams compete to enter during their regular season. Schools make money off sports through ticket sales during these games, merchandise sales, donations, and if they enter the 'end game' games they get a big pool of money that they split up among the other schools in their region (and even more money if they win that game).

E-sports as of now, at the collegiate level, doesn't have anything like that.

You can argue that Riot is the overseeing organization for League of Legends. They broke up the entire world into regions, each have their own league and compete in a season through out the year, which leads up to the worlds, where the top 3 teams from each region compete for the world title. So yeah the structure is all there. Now about schools making money from ticket sales and prize money I am not sure about that.

Edited by mshaw006

Do you guys need to use those clickbait titles?

Posted by Freshbandito

@jasonr86: Riot Games themselves set up a lot of the structure for collegiate level teams and foot the prize money themselves at the higher levels and it's a split in the contract between money to the college and the players. There's a booming industry in setting up tournaments for things like these and league gets a lot of interest as it has a very defined path to becoming a salaried player on a team and Riot games are supporting that from the bottom up to the top.

Posted by YI_Orange

@branthog: just wanna say that if you don't think competitive gaming has any physical exertion(or at least RTS/MOBAs) then you have never played one at even a mid - tier level. I'm not gonna claim It's the same as your footballs and what have you but it is certainly there.

Edited by EXTomar

In case it wasn't clear before: I believe there is a conflict of interests when any school is using their resources to offer a scholarship that isn't going towards a degree. I also have a lot of reservations setting up leagues proactively supported by schools.

If Riot wants to give out scholarships then that is their prerogative. Schools should not be in the practice of enticing students to do anything but work towards their degree with school funds.

Posted by Branthog

@yi_orange said:

@branthog: just wanna say that if you don't think competitive gaming has any physical exertion(or at least RTS/MOBAs) then you have never played one at even a mid - tier level. I'm not gonna claim It's the same as your footballs and what have you but it is certainly there.

Poker, chess, and Yahtzee have their degrees of physical exertion, too. And many sports involve a degree of mental exertion. However, one is primarily built around competition on physical attributes and the other mental. I don't see that either is superior.

I don't think anyone who actually plays these competitively wants to be considered an athlete or a sports star. I suspect this is primarily an assertion by promoters of various ilk and those who benefit off the competitors.

My assertion is simply that they do themselves a disservice by piggy-backing on something else rather than building public mind-share and interest on their own merits. The words "gaming competition" sound respectable. When I hear "esports" I feel a tinge of sleaze.

Posted by nemesis208

@extomar said:

In case it wasn't clear before: I believe there is a conflict of interests when any school is using their resources to offer a scholarship that isn't going towards a degree. I also have a lot of reservations setting up leagues proactively supported by schools.

If Riot wants to give out scholarships then that is their prerogative. Schools should not be in the practice of enticing students to do anything but work towards their degree with school funds.

So every school that offers a football or basketball or any other sport scholarship is offering money that isn't going towards a degree.

Posted by amirite

How is this headline linkbait?

Edited by EXTomar

@nemesis208 said:

@extomar said:

In case it wasn't clear before: I believe there is a conflict of interests when any school is using their resources to offer a scholarship that isn't going towards a degree. I also have a lot of reservations setting up leagues proactively supported by schools.

If Riot wants to give out scholarships then that is their prerogative. Schools should not be in the practice of enticing students to do anything but work towards their degree with school funds.

So every school that offers a football or basketball or any other sport scholarship is offering money that isn't going towards a degree.

Did you missed the snipes I took at NCAA? Yes I think that is a problem. Swapping out "football" for "video game" just highlights the issue.

Posted by Hailinel

@extomar said:

@nemesis208 said:

@extomar said:

In case it wasn't clear before: I believe there is a conflict of interests when any school is using their resources to offer a scholarship that isn't going towards a degree. I also have a lot of reservations setting up leagues proactively supported by schools.

If Riot wants to give out scholarships then that is their prerogative. Schools should not be in the practice of enticing students to do anything but work towards their degree with school funds.

So every school that offers a football or basketball or any other sport scholarship is offering money that isn't going towards a degree.

You missed the snipes I took at NCAA? Yes I think that is a problem. Swapping out "football" for "video game" just highlights the issue.

The NCAA is a bloated, antiquated, corrupt organization that desperately needs either massive reform or something else entirely to replace it. Setting aside the idea of giving scholarships to eSports players, let alone student athletes in general, college athletics are just in dire need of change.

Posted by YI_Orange

@branthog: I see what you're saying, but I think the defense of esports as sports and being athletic might partially come from people shitting all over it. Yeah, it's not the best term but until we get something better the people who hate it because of the comparison to "real" sports should back off because whining about how they aren't throwing enough balls doesn't help anybody.

The problem I see with "gaming competition" or something to that effect is the fear(or reality) that they will be dismissed as silly games. Mainstream sports seem to have transcended the idea of being just a game even if they are just that. I don't love the term esports either and I feel a little silly whenever I say it but a better term doesn't exist at the moment. I also dislike when people attempt to detract from the amount of skill and effort that goes into these games. It might be a different skill set but I would absolutely argue that it's just as difficult as any other sport.

And for the record, I know you're not one of the people I'm talking about, just making conversation.

Posted by csl316

I've been seeing local Robert Morris commercials here for years and years. Now when I see them, I'll tell everyone at lunch that this school gets... well, it gets something.

Online
Edited by amirite

@branthog: @yi_orange: And good conversation going on, you're both representing these sides well I think... I do tend to agree more with the camp that it is not a 'sport' - something that seems quite obvious to me - but in no way diminishes my interest or building respect for it, OR it's similarity to the way physical sports are presented. I think you're making the wrong argument if you're trying to make gaming sound like an impressive physical feat or equating it to sports 1:1. I think professional gaming and competitive tournaments are super cool. My interest in them definitely overlaps with my interest in baseball but at a certain point those reasons do diverge. We're talking about apples and oranges here - they're both delicious, they both make delicious fruity treats but stop trying to fucking force feed me orange pie because that sounds fucking gross.

Of course, we're not talking about me we're talking about Small Businessman out there who just wants to kick back after his small businesswork and watch some competitive events on his television, maybe some Football, maybe some Poker, or maybe someday soon some LoL or DOTA on the Competitive Gaming Channel (CGC?).

I'm not really sure I see the terms Gaming Competition or Professional Gaming as silly at all actually, they have way more gravitas than eeeeeeSports, but what do I know, again I'm not Bob American. I just think if you're someone who is serious about supporting the professional gaming community, the answer is NOT to be reactionary and try to force it into legitimacy with cool terms and marketing shit. The (I actually just typed sports by reflex as I typed this) competitions need to be rooted in a history and in people's passion. Which it does! And that's something to be proud of. But it needs to be honest, and there is just no reason to try to conjure up reasons that competitive gaming should be legit. Simple terms are not going to make or break competitive gaming in the eye of the public - they just aren't.

So why not choose terms we're actually proud of? Fucking NOBODY loves the term eSports.

I understand the feeling that it needs to be defended, but it really doesn't - gamers need to snap out of this mindset, we can stand on our own, be fucking proud that you are obsessed with the intricate wonderful chaos of a LoL match, this is the NUMBER one way to get other people interested.

Personally, I hate the term eSports, and will never say it myself. I tell people Competitive Gaming is getting pretty big. And they listen because I know what I'm talking about (kinda) and that shit is fucking interesting. It will be able to stand on it's own merits, but it will take time.

Posted by Branthog

@branthog: I see what you're saying, but I think the defense of esports as sports and being athletic might partially come from people shitting all over it. Yeah, it's not the best term but until we get something better the people who hate it because of the comparison to "real" sports should back off because whining about how they aren't throwing enough balls doesn't help anybody.

The problem I see with "gaming competition" or something to that effect is the fear(or reality) that they will be dismissed as silly games. Mainstream sports seem to have transcended the idea of being just a game even if they are just that. I don't love the term esports either and I feel a little silly whenever I say it but a better term doesn't exist at the moment. I also dislike when people attempt to detract from the amount of skill and effort that goes into these games. It might be a different skill set but I would absolutely argue that it's just as difficult as any other sport.

And for the record, I know you're not one of the people I'm talking about, just making conversation.

I should clarify that I have a pet-peeve about people abusing words in a disingenuous way to promote their own agenda; this falls right in line with that. So I have an inherent pedantic dislike of this whole thing. :)

Anyway, Poker isn't a sport, but had huge coverage on ESPN and lots of people enjoy watching it. Nobody was fooled into thinking "well, poker is obviously a sport!". Likewise, calling video games a sport isn't going to fool anyone, so they might as well just call it what it is.

A lot of skill and talent goes into basketball or counter strike or chess or ballet or playing the cello, but these are all different activities. Sports defines a particular activity that employs a certain subset of skills and talents. Other things define activities focusing on other ones.

I think part of the reason people shit all over it is the audacity of trying to claim you're a sport when you are definitively not. If you don't call yourself a sport, there's one less thing for people who don't like your event anyway and never will to shit on.

Someone who is going to dismiss "Counter-Strike Tournament/Competition" is also going to dismiss it if it is called "eSports". So, I say, why not use the one that is actually appropriate? At the least, anyone judging the form of competition will have to do so on its own merits and not merely dismiss it because it isn't a sport.

Posted by Cybexx

It will be interesting to see where this goes. These students will be the same age as the Pro players (older in some cases). Judging from Valve's Free to Play documentary it seems like Pro players struggle to balance a post-secondary education with their job. I would assume this program will require students to maintain a certain GPA to stay in the program.

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