4th & 18: Putting eSports in their place

Brian Heissenbuttel, Managing Editor

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In the last few weeks, ESPN picked up a college athletics story unlike any other: Robert Morris University, a member of the NAIA, expanded their scholarship programs to accommodate 60 new athletic scholarships. These new scholarships are not for mainstream sports such as hockey or lacrosse, nor are they for less common sports such as bowling or curling. No, Robert Morris University is offering scholarships that could be worth up to a maximum of $19,000 to 60 students who are exceptionally skilled at the popular video game League of Legends.

I am now in a different seat than I was two years ago when I published a passionate defense of dance and cheerleading in the Arapahoe Herald, arguing that members of spirit squads deserve credit as athletes. I still think they do. To this day, major universities such as the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin do not offer any financial aid to certain spirit squads, which is ridiculous and must be rectified. However, on this issue of video game scholarships, I am leaning the opposite way.

While being skilled at League of Legends, Starcraft, World of Warcraft, or any other eSport (I don’t like that name either, but it is unfortunately the official category) certainly requires a great deal of strategy, experience, and skill, the players who are in line for these scholarships are not athletes. It seems ironic that “athletes” who compete with a mouse and keyboard receive athletic scholarships, whereas many members of spirit squads receive no scholarship to compete with a myriad of coordinated stunts and moves that not only require a great deal of athleticism and training, but also can be quite dangerous.

These eSports already have their own competitions in which different teams compete for national and world championships. I am fine with colleges assembling their own eSport teams for competitions, but the format of such competitions is noticeably similar to other non-sport competitions, such as those of speech & debate or FBLA. Just like my description of eSports earlier, FBLA and speech & debate require the same qualities: strategy, experience, and skill. They also have the added bonus of requiring no athletic ability. I know that members of the Arapahoe speech & debate team do not have required weight lifting sessions, nor do they require equipment managers or personal trainers. It just so happens that collegiate League of Legends would also not require any of those!

I do not intend to discredit those who have found success in eSports. While they certainly are talented individuals, their activities have no business in a college’s athletic department. The amount of activities in colleges already that involve intercollege competition should be a great basis for college League of Legends to flourish. These eSports just need to stay out of schools’ athletic departments to ensure that the entirety of the scholarship money goes to athletes.

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