Killing for a Scholarship: League of Legends as a Varsity Sport

Imagine yourself as the captain of a varsity sports team, encouraging your teammates to kill the dragon, slay a Baron, or take down a turret. This isn’t some dated medieval sport, this is real, and you can win money doing it.

The college where I’m employed is looking to add League of Legends to their list of varsity sports. This open-minded advancement by the Digital Learning and Athletics crews led me to look into the origins of varsity gaming (and check out our future competition). At the start, I found the varsity League of Legends team, The Eagles, at Robert Morris University in Illinois.

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Eagles team member in a super cozy gaming chair.

In 2014, Robert Morris became the first U.S. school to consider video gaming a varsity sport. eSports – organized video game competitions – have always been popular with students. However, adding a professional element, rather than considering it a hobby, allows students to hone a more credible skill set. They’re able to travel, meet others who share their passion, and apply their interests in an academic setting.

Another benefit of League becoming a varsity sport is that students who may not be athletic have a new opportunity to get scholarships. Robert Morris, for example, will offer up to 50 athletic scholarships to competitive gamers each year. If I could’ve won a scholarship for video gaming, I’d be set. I’m very good at sitting for long periods of time. That’s my athletic talent. Especially in cozy chairs.

The equipment the college provides to players comes from their athletics budget. Approximately $100,000 was allocated to update a classroom and purchase the necessary technology for the team. Players will compete in comfort in $350 DXRacer R-series ergonomic chairs with 170 degree adjustable tilt. They even have devices to prevent mouse cord drag and pull.

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The gaming arena!

The teammates themselves are pretty much like any other sports team. They have a coach, uniforms, and are expected to attend practices. The members of the LoL team are also held to the same academic standards as other sports teams on campus – your GPA must stay above a 2.0, or you’re off the team.

Despite these similarities, many articles that wrote about RHU brought up the dichotomy of traditional sports versus eSports. Bringing up this comparison is to be expected. There will always be rifts; volleyball players might think that their skills are worth more than someone on the golf team or the track team.

However, some articles go beyond making general comparisons. They mention the “nerd/jock” distinction and often go out of their way to describe the players in ways that make them sound negative. Nerds are reclaiming words that once would have been thrown around by bullies. Websites like ThinkGeek and our own site, Nerdy But Flirty, are putting power into those labels. However, it seems as though those writing on the topic of eSports, specifically about the team at Robert Morris, aren’t using these terms in an empowering way.

One article makes the players seem antisocial and shy when the media confronts them. Their hands are in their pockets, they’re dragging their shoes; they look awkward. Most players, the article goes on, are “…adjusting their glasses.” I’m sure my posture would be similar if I wasn’t used to being in the spotlight. Compared to traditional varsity sports, League is something that people are used to playing in private. These students aren’t used to crowds cheering when they get a kill. Also, I adjust my glasses even when I’m confident. They slip; get over it.

While the media may be trying to push the rift farther, it seems that students at the university aren’t making noise. As one player noted, some of the soccer players thought it was funny, but “…there was no real pushback from the university.” This almost-support, he went on, could be accredited to the fact that the University already has scholarships for some out-of-the-ordinary talents, such as being the school mascot. He has a good point. No matter what the talent, these students all have something in common: they all train, they all compete, and they’re all varsity players at the end of the day. Perhaps this joint label will encourage more togetherness.

If you’d like to check out how the Eagles are doing, click the link to see their team page and current standing.

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