Illinois' Robert Morris University has become the first college in the United States to add e-sports to its athletic program and offer scholarships to professional gamers. The college has started to recruit high-school aged players of Riot Games' League of Legends for its new program, set to open this fall. RMU says it will be able to provide its e-athletes with up to 50 percent of their tuition fees and living costs, a figure that IGN says amounts to $19,000.
The free-to-play League of Legends is one of the biggest games in the world: more than 67 million people play the game at least once a month, with 27 million playing on a daily basis. Riot Games' e-sport events offer millions of dollars in prize money for teams across the world, figures that help to blur the lines between traditional sports and e-sports. Last year, showing these changing attitudes, the US government awarded visas to top-tier gamers that recognized them as professional athletes.
The university will offer gamers up to half of their fees for tuition, room, and board
E-sports teams and sponsors have offered scholarships to the e-sports community before, but RMU's new program is the first time a university has added a video game to its official athletics program. In a statement, Robert Morris University said it "recognizes the value and legitimacy of e-sports," with Kurt Melcher, the college's associate athletic director, calling League of Legends a "competitive, challenging game which requires significant amount of teamwork to be successful." The university is recruiting 27 students to form three teams of nine people. Recruited gamers will play in the Collegiate Star League to compete for the North American Collegiate Championship and its $100,000 scholarship prize pot.