University to offer athletic scholarship for video game 'cyber athletes'

Robert Morris University-Illinois (RMU) now offers an athletic scholarship for players of the popular League of Legends video game, complete with varsity athletics perks.

The video game, League of Legends, is the most popular PC video game in the world, with well over a billion hours logged of total gameplay.

The university’s Associate Athletic Director, Kurt Melcher, told Campus Reform that the university “offer[s] a couple different scholarships for a couple different unique areas of sports, like we offer a bowling scholarship [and] a scholarship to our band and color guard.”

“I was amazed at the size and scope and scale of the community behind [League of Legends]. I thought, why would it be any different than us giving a bowling scholarship than to some other ability or skill in a team environment,” Melcher said.

The university is offering between 45-50 scholarships for these student cyber athletes. Melcher told Campus Reform that “we’re giving 50% tuition and 50% housing, and the number value to that is right around $19,000 [a year].”

Melcher explained that these scholarships will be determined by varsity or junior varsity level, with a 25% scholarship for second tiered teams.

Melcher said that the school had already determined how to pay for the scholarships.

“We’re definitely not raising tuition to pay for this, we’re not taking a linebacker’s scholarship away from the football team. The school sees and recognizes that students that are involved in something outside academics, whether its athletics or intercollegiate sports, they graduate at a higher rate. That’s where the value is for us,” Melcher said.

These students will also be treated like any other varsity athlete; they will have uniforms, a regular practice schedule, and post game meals provided for them.

The athletic department at RMU is currently looking into hiring a part time coach, as well as a few assistants, for these students. Melcher said that the chief concern of the new coach will be to make sure that the athletes will stay motivated but to also keep them from practicing too much.

“The community and culture of that game – it’s like 15 Red Bulls and they’re playing all night. You almost have to regulate it backward and say, that’s enough practice,” Melcher told Inside Higher Ed.

Melcher has already received a large amount of feedback, with 70 applications collected and over 500 emails from interested students asking about the team.

“I think if more universities come on board, it can kind of be even refined and organized at the next level, and of course I hope others are looking at it.”

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