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Esports At Colleges Leads to Scholarships for Online Gamers

gamescholarshipsAn explosion in the popularity of eSports competitions has led to video game companies helping organize collegiate competitions and prompted two American universities to offer scholarships for online gamers.

Esports has become the new frontier in collegiate games, with thousands of players competing online in sports ranging from arena battles and first-person shooters to video game versions of field sports such as soccer and baseball simulation games.

The numbers are huge. An estimated 71 million people watch video game competitions on streaming sites such as Twitch every year, a number that keeps growing. And the prize money also continues to grow.

For example, the prize pool for The International, the championship tournament for the online game “Dota 2,” has passed $14 million. The International will take place in August 2015.

Esports on College Campus

Esports has been played on college campuses for years, but really took off after online gaming competitions became popular in the first decade of the 21st Century. Teams for eSports are at many colleges – for example, more than 200 schools have teams that participate in organized “League of Legends” competitions.

It’s also grown as spectator sport. More than 90,000 people watched online in the summer of 2014 as San Jose State beat California State University-Fullerton in an online video game battle, according to the New York Times. The Times also reported that more than 10,000 students now play in the biggest college video game leagues – 4,600 more than play on NCAA Division I basketball teams.

Video game developers have quickly moved to support these teams, in some cases offering prizes, team banners and helping organize leagues.

College Gaming Scholarships

Online gaming scholarships are now being offered at two universities. Both Chicago-based Robert Morris University Illinois and the University of Pikesville in Kentucky began offering talented gamers a chance to earn scholarships to their respective schools.

Both schools have offered scholarships for those who play at a high level in League of Legends, the world’s most popular online video game with more than 27 million players every day.

Robert Morris offered 35 scholarships for the 2014-2015 school year. The University of Pikesville plans to offer 20 beginning in fall of 2015. Gaming skills aren’t the only condition – students will also be judged by their grade point average and work ethic, as well.

Players will compete in the Collegiate Star League, a “League of Legends” division open to accredited North American colleges. About 230 universities participate.

Criticism and the Future

The scholarships have come under some criticism from those who think of athletics in 20th Century terms. But, as pointed out by the associate athletic director at Robert Morris, a lot of the people doing the criticism never were athletes and spend weekends in a La-Z-Boy while having “a six-pack of beer and Cheetos.”

Even ESPN has embraced eSports. The network televised a “Call of Duty” gaming competition that was part of the X-Games in the summer of 2014 and televised The International, the global finals of the video game “Dota 2, according to USA Today. And Amazon recently paid almost $1 billion to acquire Twitch, according to the Harvard Crimson.

The Crimson also reported that more people watched the 2013 League of Legends World Championship (about 32 million) than that year’s NCAA BCS Championship and Game 7 of the NBA Finals (about 26 million each).

With the growing audience for eSports – both among players and spectators – it seems likely more schools will join Robert Morris and the University of Pikesville soon.

Today’s guest article was provided by iFame Media, an internet marketing agency that focuses on higher education among other industries.

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