Online Athletes? Robert Morris University to Offer 'eSports' Scholarships

By Lizzie Schiffman Tufano on June 18, 2014 5:17am 

 A League of Legends team competing in the World Championship Finals.
A League of Legends team competing in the World Championship Finals.
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Flickr/artubr

THE LOOP — Is online gaming a sport worthy of including in a college's athletic program?

Robert Morris University thinks so, announcing this month that student-athletes can compete in League of Legends online games as part of its newly launched "eSports" program, calling it an "online sport."

Citing the "large surge in popularity" of video game competitions, the university announced that the school "recognizes the value and legitimacy of eSports and is excited to add eSports to its already rich athletic curriculum," that also includes championship-winning women's lacrosse and men's basketball teams.

League of Legends is an online multiplayer battle arena game modeled in part after World of Warcraft, which pits players against each other in one-on-one fights and team battles.

The move to integrate League of Legends and the eSport category with the university's athletic program also makes eSport athletes eligible for athletic scholarships to the Loop university.

Robert Morris is the first school in the country to offer athletic scholarships of up to 50 percent tuition and 50 percent room and board to qualified gamers who join the university's "League of Legends" team.

The eSports program will organize video game competitions hosted at its Loop campus, but playing out in the online game's digital arenas. Robert Morris' team will join the Collegiate Star League, made up of 103 universities, including Arizona State, George Washington and Harvard.

Kurt Melcher, Robert Morris' associate athletic director, said he's happy to see online athletes included in the school's sports program.

"League of Legends is a competitive, challenging game which requires a significant amount of teamwork to be successful," he said in a statement. "Robert Morris has always been at the forefront of providing opportunities for a diverse student population with different interests and skills."

The university announced plans to begin recruiting student athletes for the inaugural "League of Legends" from high school students who have competed in the "League of Legends" High School Starleague.

Last summer, the U.S. State Department determined that competitive online gaming was a legitimate sport, and participating, qualified players can move to the U.S. under the same visas provided to professional athletes in traditional sports. 

Robert Morris' League of Legends team will begin competing this fall. Incoming students interested in consideration for the team should contact Melcher at 312-935-4110 or kmelcher@robertmorris.edu. Application fees will be waived for eSport "League of Legends" applicants.

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