Robert Morris University, a four-year college in Illinois, is the first school ever to offer an unprecedented video game scholarship to players of the extremely popular game League of Legends. Fans of the popular online battle arena game, League of Legends, are invited to apply for an athletic scholarship, beginning this fall, for a chance to represent RMU as part of a highly competitive collegiate league.
The university plans to offer scholarships to a select group of players who have committed to the game, offered by developer Riot. Those players who are selected for the league will be eligible for up to 50 percent scholarship for tuition, room and board in exchange for representing the university in the multiplayer role-playing game.
League of Legends was officially released in October of 2009, and while the game was popular following its release from beta, its reputation has grown by leaps and bounds. In January 2014, it was reported that 27 million people play the game per day, 67 million per month, and Forbes reports that in 2012 League of Legends was the single most played game on PC’s in Europe and North America based on hours played.
Organized video game competitions, known in the gaming community collectively as eSports, are widely popular among online multiplayer enthusiasts. The sport has gained increased coverage and recognition, thanks largely to the efforts of video broadcasting service Twitch and organized eSports announcers, broadcasted battles, and fiercely competitive ranking systems in most freemium and pay-to-play models.
For the uninitiated, some gaming terms bear some highlighting. For one, a freemium online game is essentially a free app or software program, available for download on tablets, laptops, desktop computers, and occasionally cell phones (although its rare among competitive gamers to play away from the command center of a desktop computer with stable internet connection and accessories of the gamer’s choosing).
A great example of a freemium game model is the widely celebrated online trading card game, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, offered from major developer Blizzard. If online reviews are any indication, this free game is a fun, light-hearted and addictive introduction into the wide world of gaming.
Hearthstone, like the popular cell phone app Words with Friends, or the widely popular League of Legends, offered at RMU, is free-to-play. However, if players are looking for a slight edge over competitors in either game, an item without waiting to level up, or an upgraded outfit for a character (called a skin in the case of League of Legends players),users may elect to pay.
League of Legends is, in essence, a freemium game. If a person were so inclined, one could sign up for the service, and, by playing over time, accumulate a rank and experience points (XP, gold, manna, frags or influence points, depending on the titles). These games offer the types of challenges that keep players visiting daily, which is part of the reason these titles make good league games. Constantly updated challenges to entice users to play, vivid artwork, and unfettered access to an arena that developers usually attempt to keep amended. Video games like League of Legends, for which the Illinois university is offering a scholarship to play, require hefty time commitments to build the skill and sense of teamwork needed to win.
In brief contrast, pay-to-play games, as the name suggests, cost to play; these games come with a wide range of options for investment. The immensely popular World of Warcraft franchise is a service that requires players to pay monthly to enjoy the service. Diablo franchise, another well-known pay-to-play title, doesn’t ask players to invest monthly, but rather one time in a software bundle that is similar to a console game. Many players prefer one type of game or the other, and this terminology can be confusing to those whose experience to videos games is limited to consoles.
Since 2000, eSports have seen an explosion of real-time strategy and multiplayer online battle arena competitions, both of which describe League of Legends. These competitive games often offer players live broadcast, as well as cash prizes to individuals or teams that win. In 2013, finalists in the Riot Games tournaments competed at the Staples Center in Los Angelos, and the winning team was awarded a staggering $1 million.
Robert Morris University has stated that the college recognizes the appeal and substance of eSports and is excited to add organized video game competitions to a robust athletic roster. RMU issued a release defending the competitive nature of the online game and the necessary teamwork that comes with League of Legends as reasons why the sport qualified as an athletic endeavor. While professionals will of course be attractive to the opportunity, many collegiate teams invite players of a wide range of experience level. These associations are a great way for players to connect, share strategy, and improve existing skills.
For scholarship recipients, the program is seeking athletes who have played in the League of Legends School Starleague, an organization of over 750 post-secondary and collegiate level competitors in the U.S. and Canada. The Collegiate Star League, 103 colleges and universities, is comprised of competitors who represent such prestigious alma maters as George Washington University, Harvard, and Arizona State. The video game scholarship, on offer now to qualified, competitive level students interested in playing for the Illinois university, should contact The RMU eSport Program director Kurt Melcher of the Eagles’ Athletic Department. According to the school’s website, all eSport League of Legends applicants will have their application fee waived.
By Mariah Beckman