Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Athletic scholarships for videogame playing

Kurt Melcher, the Associate Athletic Director at Robert Morris [University], dreamed up the idea of a videogame scholarship this past spring when he came across a game called "League of Legends," Mr. Bensema's specialty. ...

In April, Mr. Melcher submitted a one-page proposal to field a League of Legends team. Two weeks later, the president's council came back and said they wanted to offer 60 scholarships of up to 50% off tuition and room and board.

"We saw this as a chance to reach kids who might not have otherwise considered us," said Provost Mablene Krueger. For the school, a significant short-term cost of the program is the new esports arena, a retrofitted classroom with 36 gaming stations that will cost the school about $100,000.

The school received a handful of responses when it posted the announcement on its website. Then the owners of Riot Games, which created League of Legends, posted it on the game's website. Within 48 hours, the school got 2,200 inquiries from as far away as Gambia, in West Africa. Almost all of them were from males. ...

Mr. Bensema said he was awe-struck when he heard about the scholarship. He had just graduated from high school and was hoping to go to the University of Southern Illinois, but he applied to Robert Morris the next day.

A few weeks later, he got a call from Ferris Ganzman, the school's newly hired 22-year-old coach, who helped put himself through Loyola University in Chicago by coaching professional League of Legends teams (earning $3,000 a month from his dorm room).
--Douglas Belkin, WSJ, on recruiting a well-rounded student body