Robert Morris University in Illinois has announced that it will be fielding a team to compete in the Collegiate Star League, a video-gaming league in which 103 other institutions now field teams to play the video game League of Legends.
So, in those details, this is not a new story.
But Robert Morris has taken this a step further than any other institution. It is adding this team to its athletics program, and it is offering “athletics” scholarships as it actively recruits players for its team. Since there are now more than 750 institutions in 46 states and eight Canadian provinces that compete in the League of Legends High School Starleague, there are clearly many high school players to scout
Kurt Melcher, the university’s Director of Athletics, has explained the decision in this way: “Robert Morris University has always been at the forefront of providing opportunities for a diverse student population with different interests and skills. League of Legends is a competitive, challenging game which requires significant amount of teamwork to be successful.”
There is even some scholarship money at stake in Riot’s North American Collegiate Championship, for which teams can qualify either through league play or through an open tournament. The total money is still small in comparison to that available in major collegiate sports—in the low six figures—but some “professional” video gamers are now earning in the millions. So there is clearly the potential for this “sport” to generate significantly higher revenues.
On the plus side, there are no concussions or other debilitating injuries that can affect a former athlete for the rest of his or her life. On the other hand, there is no actual athleticism, no exercise. And I keep thinking of those video gamers who have dropped dead at their consoles after obsessively playing the games for days at a time.
Perhaps, it is simply impossible to remove physical risk from “sports,” even when they aren’t sports. I suppose that vision problems and “carpal tunnel” syndrome may become the new nagging “sports” injuries.