Are School Scholarships For eSports The Next Big Thing?

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Although it doesn’t get half the coverage or consideration that the bigger, more active sports do, there’s no denying that eSports is a hugely popular pastime. From the rampant fanbases that surround eSports’ professional players to those who pay good money to watch tournaments in person (and sell out stadiums as a result) the numbers are all there to carry eSports forward into a larger form of entertainment.

And we can expect those numbers to increase by massive margins over the next few months and years. New games like Hearthstone give players a new way to test their gaming mettle whilst old favorite League of Legends does its bit to get new players involved and the millions of dollars that Dota 2 offers in eSports prize money remain an ever dangling carrot.

Surprisingly, eSports could even be boosted by educational institutions. With students now having the possibility to get into school based on their educational and gaming merits, Robert Morris University have just launched an eSports scholarship. With the scholarship potentially worth over $20,000 (RMU will offer 60 scholarships of up to 50% off of the $44,000 cost for tuition, room and board) many might wonder why an educational institution might pay so much money for students to enrol, knowing they'll spend much of their time playing a free-to-play video game.

But when Kurt Melcher, the Associate Athletic Director at Robert Morris came across the game earlier this year and “couldn't believe how elaborate it was," League of Legends proved to be a potential remedy for the university's number problems.

League of Legends Akali vs Baron

Due to the possibility of crippling student debt, some students just avoid higher education altogether and this is having a knock on effect at RMU who have witnessed a decline in enrolment. The scholarship won’t necessarily make education affordable and one entrant into RMU’s League of Legends program recognises the fact that even though he’d be better of financially if he went to a state university, the opportunities gifted to him as a professional gamer on a scholarship are too big to refuse.

Despite the big money hand-outs, RMU does still have a budget to adhere though. By increasing its amount of athletic scholarships it seems like an anomaly next to schools who have decreased them but this League of Legends scholarship actually kills two birds with one stone. The school is paying around $100,000 to retrofit a classroom with the relevant tech in order to accommodate the new students’ gaming and while that might seem like a high price to pay, it’s more expensive to add a running track, swimming pool or other facilities needed to accommodate athletic scholars who got in for non-eSports reasons.

Furthermore, while it might seem like the school is banking on the game’s popularity to boost its own, it’s worth noting that they’ve also hired League of Legends coach Ferris Ganzman to lead the team to victory. That doesn’t necessarily mean RMU’s team is poised for success but as Ganzman put himself through college coaching other pro LoL teams (earning around $3000 a month in doing so) they certainly have a better shot.

Hearthstone Male Only Tournament Changed

So will RMU’s scholarship add fuel to eSports’ already blazing flames? The school received 2,200 inquiries form all over the world when Riot (League of Legends’ developer) posted about it on their website which suggests that there’s serious popularity there. Those inquiries were mostly from male League players though and gender diversity and making an inclusionary space for all gamers has long been eSports’ problem so whether RMU takes this into consideration when putting together its team is yet to be seen.

It will also be interesting to find out how RMU plans to make its team sustainable with its best players graduating year in year out but as the university is still conducting trials for its program, that, along with how the scholarship program will encourage interest in eSports, is something to think about in the future.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

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