I just read a fascinating story about Robert Morris University. When Kurt Melcher was surfing the Internet one day, he searched for an old favorite computer game he played in his young years, Starcraft. He was surprised to find how many were both competing and collaborating while playing the game. And then, an idea hit him.
“I was shocked at the size and scope and scale and the passion of the community,” Melcher told The Post Game. “It’s played at the high school level and the collegiate level and even professionally.”
Melcher happens to be associate athletic director at Robert Morris University-Illinois in Chicago. More than a hobby, he saw League of Legends as an opportunity to broaden the athletic department. So, Melcher suggested giving out video game scholarships to Athletic Director Megan Smith Eggert, and the duo pitched the idea to RMU President Michael P. Viollt. The idea made sense to Eggert and to Viollt.
The bottom line is—Robert Morris announced it is now offering gaming scholarships as part of its athletic program, specifically for the game League of Legends. The university is offering recruits money to study at the university and represent its colors in intercollegiate competitions. “At our school, we offer scholarships for a wide variety of the traditional sports and obviously the untraditional things like bowling, color guard and band,” Melcher says. “It just seemed like a natural progression for students that have a skill set outside traditional sports. Maybe they couldn’t make their high school team or didn’t want to, but they have a different skill set. It’s still operating in a team environment.”
RMU plans to get its newest student-athletes in front of monitors as soon as this September. The team will participate in the Collegiate Star League, a gaming conference of 103 institutions of higher education. Many of the schools are Division I institutions and feature opponents other Robert Morris athletic teams do not get to face in NAIA competition. RMU will be the only U.S. team offering substantial scholarships to its gamers. Melcher says colleges in Korea have already done this.
My word of advice to you?
Get ready. This is only the beginning. Generation Z (or the Homelanders, as some social scientists call them) are the youngest kids getting measured today. They are the generation following the Millennials, or Generation Y. 66 percent of 6-11 year olds list “gaming” as the top source of entertainment, and 51 percent of male teens say it is their number one source of entertainment. In fact, among our youngest generation in the U.S., they often see outside sports as a health tool, not as something you do for play. More of them are inside, not outside, and they are multi-tasking on five screens. I believe video game scholarships will pop up all over the world soon. Schools will find ways to use them for educational and redemptive purposes. I know, I know. It seems so virtual, so unreal. But this is the emerging world our kids are living in and embracing.
How We Must Adjust…
1. Observe the interest of “tweens” and teens and discover a way to use those interests for the purpose of education and preparation for careers with life skills.
2. Find ways you can incorporate the language they speak—icons and symbols, competition, screens, speed and live streaming—into your pedagogy.
3. Be open to combining your current realities in education or athletics with their world of gaming, YouTube, disintegrating messaging (Snapchat, Whisper).
4. Be willing to try new things and fail. Students are a moving target, so we must be emotionally secure enough to attempt ideas and tweak them until they work.
What would you add to this list above?