The future of League of Legends as a sport

Perhaps it’s finally the time for gamers to no longer be viewed as wasting their life away. As collegiate institutions change their perception toward video gaming and eSports as a viable form of athleticism, gamers will finally be able pursue their hobbies as a profession rather than as a pastime.

“League of Legends,” or “LoL,” a free multiplayer arena online computer game, is perhaps the top contender among all popular video games to trailblaze this rapid growth. “LoL” has more than 27 million players per day, with 7.5 million playing concurrently, said Riot Games, the video game’s publisher, to the Washington Street Journal. The effect is obvious — within UC Berkeley, there is a “League of Legends” Facebook group and an eSports club that has a specific focus on the game, and last fall semester, students were offered a DeCal titled “League of Legends Game Theory.”

This growth isn’t limited to UC Berkeley, as many other colleges have similar “League of Legends” clubs and Facebook groups for avid players looking for a local community. It seems less and less farfetched that “LoL,” along with other video games such as “Defense of the Ancients,” or “DotA,” “Hearthstone” and “Starcraft II,” will be taken seriously as an extracurricular pursuit by collegiate institutions.

Robert Morris University in Illinois recently announced that it would be giving scholarships to “League of Legends” players who would make up a collective group of 30 within their respective athletic department, 10 on the varsity team and 10 on each of the two practice teams. Varsity players will receive up to a 50 percent scholarship covering tuition, room and board while the reserve players are expected to receive 25 percent, said Kurt Melcher, the athletic director of the university, to ABC news.

This is the first instance of a team being formed for a collegiate institution that is backed to this extent by their respective school, but new ideas will always breed doubts. Some believe that eSports shouldn’t be categorized as athletic based on the effort, physical strain and time that gamers put into their fields compared to what other athletes put in. In fact, it was just recently that the U.S. government declared that professional gamers are considered athletes under U.S. law, thus allowing international players to obtain athletic visas for tournaments.

But regimens for training with professional “LoL” players have been known to be tough. Like many other already recognized sports such as basketball and football, “LoL” requires teamwork and cooperation, which, at a professional level, cannot be accomplished without putting in time and effort. Saintvicious, a player on the professional “League of Legends” team Curse, stated in an interview with Maximum PC that the team’s training regimens are as long as 12 to 14 hours per day, during which the members strategize, run drills, scrimmage and watch replays to improve their play.

Players have also been known to retire after a few years due to — usually ocular and hand — injuries, indicating that “League of Legends” is indeed physically taxing, despite the assumptions that video games often aren’t. For example, professional League player Toyz retired in 2013 due to carpal tunnel syndrome.

There have been instances of intercollegiate tournaments held by Riot, such as the North American Collegiate Championship, where teams representing their schools compete for prize money. The changes that Robert Morris University’s new varsity team makes on these types of events are immense. Riot will see the benefit of tournaments geared toward the college-age demographic and is likely to up the ante, as it has done time and time again in its world tournaments. (The League World Championships had more than $8 million of prize money for contestants, with the victorious team getting $1 million for winning.)

The competitiveness of the gaming world isn’t to be underestimated either, as many professional teams and players have different types of sponsors, ranging from tech companies to the Air Force Reserve.

This probably doesn’t mean that a public university such as UC Berkeley will be getting its own school-funded League team in the near future, but I think before very long, we will be seeing “League of Legends” players such as Faker, Doublelift and Dunkey revered as much as athletes such as LeBron James, Peyton Manning and David Beckham. Just last year, the League World Championships garnered an astounding 32 million viewers, according to Riot Games, which rests slightly below one-third of the viewers that the Super Bowl had this year at 112 million.

These changes to athletic policy usher in a new era in which the nerd will finally have equal footing with the jock. Gamers doing the thing they love will no longer be a dream they can never hope to reach, and best of all, they finally have an excuse for gaming to tell their parents.