[Update, 06/24/2014, 5:40 p.m. EDT: This article has been updated to reflect a Fusion interview, after initial publication, with the university's associate athletic director.]
Nerds are about to become the new "jocks" at one Illinois college.
Robert Morris University announced this month that it will offer athletic scholarships to students who are really good at playing the online video game “League of Legends.”
Call them varsity e-athletes, or virtual jocks.
The private school, which has an enrollment of about 7,000 students at several campuses around the state, isn’t the first to field a League of Legends team. But it's reportedly the first to offer athletic scholarships to teenage video gamers.
While traditional athletes might roll their eyes, the scholarships are bound to be welcome news for droves of high school gamers who spend endless hours locked in their bedrooms in front of their computer screens ("Get off my case, dad, I'm prepping for college.”)
Scholarship recipients will receive up to half the cost of tuition, as well as room and board. That could bring welcome relief from the burden of student loan debt.
Robert Morris will join the Collegiate Star League, in which college gamers from more than 100 schools, including Harvard University and George Washington University, compete against each other for top gamer status.
Robert Morris will look to recruit members of the robust "League of Legends High School Star League," which boasts more than 750 schools from 46 states and eight Canadian provinces. While the move might draw skepticism from some corners, the school shouldn’t have trouble. It’s received hundreds of inquiries about the new e-sport scholarship already.
"It's a team setting," Kurt Melcher, the school's associate athletic director, told Fusion during a phone interview. "Players have a specific role in the team, they learn how to win or lose as a team…so those similarities are the same as any other sport."
While the sport isn't "cardiovascular," he acknowledged, it's also not the only unusual athletic scholarship the school offers. The university has bowling and performing arts scholarships that fall under the athletic umbrella, Melcher said.
Reception from traditional athletes has been a little skeptical, he said, but those on the gamer side are "overjoyed."
"They feel liberated," he said. "Vindicated."
League of Legends is a science fiction battle game that pits teams of five players against each other as they fight to destroy the opposing team's power base. It is one of the most widely played and watched video games of all time; Riot Games, the company that created League of Legends, claims 27 million people play the game every day. League of Legends even has a professional league and regularly sells out major tournaments at cities around the world. Tickets for last year's world championship at Los Angeles' Staples Center reportedly sold out in an hour.
If only the Los Angeles Kings were so lucky.
Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.