New e-sports scholarship requires students to play well and study well

Sophomore Tommy Roberts plays League of Legends. He said an e-sports scholarship is a good supplementary, but still considers academics first.

Sophomore Tommy Roberts plays League of Legends. He said an e-sports scholarship is a good supplementary, but still considers academics first.


Sophomore Tommy Roberts clicked on a blue icon with a yellow “L” in it on his computer. When it opened, he scrolled through a window labeled “Champion Select,” down rows of portraits of characters that looked as though they could have stepped out of a fantasy novel. Roberts was playing “League of Legends” (LoL), the most popular e-sports game in the world.

Roberts is one of many high school LoL players who have their eyes on e-sports scholarships now being offered at colleges across the country. According to The Wall Street Journal, in June, Robert Morris University in Chicago was the first college in the United States to offer varsity athletics scholarships for an e-sport, in this case, LoL.

“For a college to offer a scholarship like this one, it’ll really open up e-sports to the public,” Roberts said.

LoL is an online game similar to Capture the Flag. Two teams of five players each choose characters to duel in a fictional battleground. Players on each team then try to capture the other team’s base. Roberts said that to play well in LoL, it is imperative to have a quick reaction time and the ability to work with one’s team.

w.esportsgraphic.11.14According to an October New York Times article, the LoL scholarship covers half of Robert Morris’s tuition and room and board and also gives students positions on the university’s competitive gaming team. Coaches evaluate participants by looking for how well they play their positions, their win-loss records and their ability to cooperate within a team.

Kurt Melcher, Robert Morris associate athletic director, said the LoL scholarship serves to engage the students in activities outside of the classroom.

“Studies show that these kinds of students tend to graduate at a higher rate than ones who don’t. It’s a plus that our scholarship students are engaged in something they’re excited about: playing LoL,” he said.

Roberts, however, said he feels gaming does not have any academic benefits.

“I don’t think the scholarship could benefit education at all,” Roberts said. “It’s just a supplement. Playing LoL is like any other sport; you don’t get smarter by just playing football.”

Like in all scholarships, students might focus too much on their sport or activity and end up neglecting their grades. According to Melcher, Robert Morris’s LoL coaches ensure students finish their homework and maintain a passing GPA. If a student is struggling in a subject, the coaches help him find a tutor.

“Our scholarship students are student athletes, but the ‘student’ part comes first,” Melcher said.

For Roberts, applying for an e-sports scholarship would be secondary to pursuing his field of study. Roberts said he thinks of an e-sports scholarship like a pleasant side effect. Like many high school students choosing colleges, Roberts considers scholarships when deciding on a school to attend.

“When I’m choosing a college, I’m going for the academics. After you graduate, unless you’re going to become a pro gamer, the workplace isn’t going to look for how good you are at playing e-sports,” he said.

Even though Robert Morris’s LoL scholarship students need to keep their grades up, they also have to practice, so as not to let their gaming skills decline. The scholarship team practices on Mondays through Saturdays from 4 to 9 p.m. According to Melcher, students need to know how to balance gaming and school.

“You can excel at LoL, but you also have to maintain grades because you have to have those to go to college. You have to strike a balance between what you want to do and what you want to accomplish,” he said.

Roberts said, “If people really want to pursue playing e-sports into college, then they need to balance their lives, school and gaming well. Balance is really important; to actually have a shot at getting the scholarship, you have to devote your time to the game, but you can’t let your schoolwork drop off.”