College recognizes video games as varsity sport
As a teenager, Youngbin Chung became addicted to video games. He played for 10 hours a day.
His grades were poor. His parents fretted.
A few years later, the 20-year-old leads a team of players into virtual battle in a darkened room at a university in Chicago. Chung is studying computer networking on a nearly $15,000-a-year athletic scholarship. He gets the money to play League of Legends. It's the game he used to play so much at home.
"I never thought in my life I'm going to get a scholarship (for) playing a game," said Chung. He is one of 35 students attending Robert Morris University on a video game scholarship.
Gamers have become stars. Video gaming is called esports. In professional leagues, they compete for millions of dollars in prizes. They pack thousands into stadiums around the world.
Games have evolved from the days of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. Today they involve multiple players. They communicate with each other in teams. The squads plot strategy, predict opponents' moves and react very quickly.
Robert Morris has about 3,000 students. School officials believe that spending money to recruit these students will enrich campus life. And add to its ranks of high-achieving graduates.
"It's coming. It's coming big time," Associate Athletic Director Kurt Melcher said of the esports trend.
Hundreds of colleges and universities have esports clubs. Robert Morris is the first to recognize it as a varsity sport. It's all to play a single video game, League of Legends. Teams of five use keyboards and mouses to control mythical fighters that battle.
The Robert Morris Eagles will play teams in two leagues that include Harvard and MIT. The goal is to make it to the League of Legends North American Collegiate Championship. Members of the first-place team take home $30,000 each in scholarships.
Some 27 million people play League of Legends each day, according to developer Riot Games Inc.