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Clegg: Scholarships for gaming

BY CHRIS CLEGG | FEBRUARY 04, 2015 5:00 AM

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While you’ve probably never heard of the Robert Morris University-Illinois Eagles or the University of Pikeville Bears of eastern Kentucky, these schools have made revolutionary strides with their sports programs in the past year. These institutions have become the first to incorporate online video games (E-Sports) as an official sport, thus providing talented “gamers” the chance to win athletic scholarships.

That’s right. You can now receive financial aid to competitively play such games as League of Legends, StarCraft, and Dota 2. For those of you that aren’t fluent in geek, these are immensely popular computer games in which teams compete with each other throughout a multitude of different game types and variations. Millions of people play these games worldwide, and competitive leagues have been prevalent for the last decade, but this is the first time in history in which private universities are treating gamers as athletes, providing them with financial assistance in exchange for their abilities on the virtual playing field.

Is this something Americans should worry about? After all, the Journal of the American Medical Association did publish a study finding that one-third of all adult Americans and nearly one-fifth (17 percent) of all children to be obese — a stat that certainly wouldn’t improve should gaming come to replace things in our everyday lives such as physical activity. Would instilling the ideal of proficiency at video games be hazardous to a generation that seems to be already engulfed in rapid advances in technology? To me, the answer is absolutely not.

These unprecedented offers could truly be the start of something revolutionary both in academia and technology. Given the massive number of popular games across an array of platforms, combined with the myriad of people who play them, a legitimate industry has started to bloom. The process of combining the gaming industry with academia may seem like a recipe for disaster on the surface, but there are some huge benefits that would result from the collision course that these two entities seem destined to take.

First of all, universities can use the appeal of video-game scholarships as a recruiting tool to gain more students and draw a wider variety of people to their institutions. Second, offering video-game scholarships can be seen as an intelligent, if not progressive, investment for the future. Just last July, a five-man Chinese video-gaming team by the name of Newbee took home a first-place grand prize of nearly $11 million, while Complexity, winners of the 2014 Call of Duty championship, walked away with a cool $400,000. The amount of money to be made through school-sanctioned events, tournaments, merchandise, and advertising in this area is an untapped market. As video games gain popularity, there are very few barriers preventing them from becoming a self-sustaining industry, much like that of other college sports such as football and basketball, which generate mass amounts of revenue without really spending that much on the people and teams that generate that revenue.

Could the future of American college entertainment shift from one focused on physical sports such as football and basketball to one more based on mental and twitch-reaction sports such as League of Legends and Halo? Only time will tell.


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