Chicago school adds varsity videogame team

Athletic scholarships lure applicants

Robert Morris University in downtown Chicago is offering scholarships to the nation's first varsity videogame team, the Wall Street Journalreports.

As many as 60 students will receive up to half off their tuition at the small private school as officials try to lure more applicants and drive down the cost of college expenses.

"We saw this as a chance to reach kids who might not have otherwise considered us," says Provost Mablene Krueger.

While many institutions are cutting sports to curb costs, Robert Morris has increased its number of athletic scholarships to about 700—up from 150 a decade ago. The "sports" include dressing up as the mascot, bass fishing, paintball, and roller derby.

Related research brief: Implications of changing athletic offerings

Associate athletic director Kurt Melcher came up with the videogame team idea last spring when he came across "League of Legends," an online strategy game reminiscent of Capture the Flag. Thirty-two million people watched the game's world championships online last October—and 18,000 fans watched the match live at Los Angeles' Staples Center.

The president's council needed only two weeks to approve Melcher's one-page proposal to start a team.

When the owners of League of Legends posted an announcement about the scholarships on the game's website, Robert Morris received 2,200 inquiries, some from West Africa. Nearly all were from young men.

Starting the program

The school hired a coach, Ferris Ganzman, 22, who put himself through Loyola University in Chicago by training professional League of Legends teams. The "esports arena," consisting of a classroom with 36 gaming stations, will cost approximately $100,000.

Ganzman reviewed applicants based on their ratings, then held tryouts for 150 players.

One high schooler, Sean Bensema, earned a 25% scholarship. Despite paying significantly more than he would to attend a state school as he originally planned, Bensema decided to accept the opportunity to attend Robert Morris.

"I'm doing a sport that's cool," he says. "And it could lead somewhere. There's a lot of people making a lot of money playing videogames" (Belkin, Wall Street Journal [subscription required], 9/1).


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