Sports are traditionally defined as activities where opponents challenge each other in physical prowess. Such a strict definition, however, is being unraveled by the “nerdy” antithesis of “jock” sports — video games, where a very different kind of prowess is required.
One video game in particular, League of Legends, or LoL, has been gaining a lot of traction as more than just a pastime. After the U.S. government recognized LoL as an official sport, there was even talk about the game becoming a potential contender for the 2016 Olympics.
Now, Robert Morris University Illinois is willing to offer between 45 and 50 athletic scholarships to play LoL as a varsity sport. No, that’s not a joke. At $19,000 each, Robert Morris University Illinois is investing at least $855,000 into varsity gaming with League of Legends.
The game is set up so that two teams of players have to fight each other on a battlefield divided into three lanes. The winning objective is to destroy the enemy’s base, located on the opposite corner of the map, by toppling towers within these lanes. Of course, the enemy team is trying to do the same thing, so this is where a lot of the game’s strategy takes place.
For my high school friends and me, LoL has definitely been an integral part of our lives. When it first caught fire in my social group during sophomore year, I wasn’t part of the bandwagon. Every day during lunch, I’d hear my friends discuss their matches from the previous night.
They would be talking in video game jargon and for the most part I had no clue what they were saying. However, once I began playing, I definitely could understand the appeal of the multiplayer online battle arena genre, or MOBA.
Much like chess, the game has an Elo ranking system that judges how good you are based on your wins and losses. Players who are in the top are widely recognized and often play in one of the competitive teams that compete in the Championship Series. This Series occurs every season and is professionally streamed on a daily basis. The prize pool for last year was over $2 million, and the winner of the world tournament received $1 million.
I’ve played the game for three years now, and although I’ve recently cut back quite drastically for academics, there are other kids my age that take it to the next level and actually compete on a team as a full-time sport. There are even some Spartans competing in the international field for League of Legends. Hai Du Lam, a graduate from MSU, is currently competing full-time on one of North America’s top teams. Knowing that electronic sports are already popular in Asia, with Korea having dedicated television channels to video games such as Starcraft, I think it’s great that the U.S. is finally partaking in this new paradigm of sports.
While the sport has very little physical interaction, its strategic elements make it akin to competitive chess and poker. Players are constantly battling a game of wits, and the elements of fantasy and teamwork LoL provides definitely spice things up.
Just because people are outplaying each other on a computer rather than physically or verbally, shouldn’t take away from the game’s competitive standing as a sport. Universities such as MSU and MIT already have official school clubs sponsoring a collegiate championship and the scholarship offers of Robert Morris University Illinois are just the first steps to taking the sport a step further.
I’m sure this whole idea is going to get a lot of ridicule, especially from older generations.
Many people who play video games can probably remember a time when their parents told them that video games were a waste of time. Although there are many mindless video games out there fitting that category to a tee, games that require active thinking and a team dynamic definitely deserve some respect.
While I think physical activity is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle, the concept of a competitive sport shouldn’t be limited to physical interaction. Electronic sports offers a more even playing field compared to physical sports — where people who are incredibly endowed with good genetics are going to have an overwhelming advantage.
Although electronic sports still have a long way to go to earn public recognition in America, I think they will eventually lead to a refreshing new genre of competition that will become as engaging to the world as the World Cup is right now.
Henry Pan is a chemical engineering sophomore. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.