FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Attention Indiana Tech is looking for video game superstars who aren’t necessarily the Mountain Dew-drinking, Cheetos-eating, stay up with the lights off until 3 a.m. stereotype. But they’re welcome, too.
The university has made video gaming a varsity sport starting this fall and is actively recruiting players of two games, League of Legends and Hearthstone.
And, attention parents: Indiana Tech is offering scholarships to gamers with the right stuff.
The new collegiate sport, taking hold at a handful of other universities around the country, can be traced to a modest beginning at Indiana Tech in 2015.
What started as a club team in a hot basement with a tangle of extension cords has now been elevated to a gaming arena with custom-made gaming stations, state-of-the-art gaming chairs and a coach’s office.
“We’re looking to build an eSports family here,” said Kyle Klinker, Indiana Tech recreational community coordinator and eSports director. “We will have varsity, junior varsity and club. The club will remain for kids who want to be engaged but just want to have fun.”
Indiana Tech is one of the six founding institutions of the National Association of Collegiate eSports (NACE), essentially the NCAA of video gaming. The others are Columbia College (Mo.), Maryville University (Mo.), Midland University (Neb.), Robert Morris University (Ill.) and University of Pikeville (Ky.).
The driving forces behind the new eSports programs are audience and money. The 2016 League of Legends championship drew 43 million unique visitors. The prize pool topped $6.7 million.
This fall, Indiana Tech will offer 12 scholarships to students to play video games: $5,000 for varsity games and $2,500 for junior varsity gamers. That money will go toward an expected 2017-18 tuition of $25,940, but there’s the lure of that prize money, too.
In the beginning, there were 17 kids willing to pay $50 apiece for a spot in Indiana Tech’s eSports club and a Warriors team jersey a mere two years ago.
Indiana Tech President Dr. Arthur Snyder saw potential. He saw eSports as an avenue to engage and retain students, as well as attract new students to Indiana Tech. Not only did Snyder invest in that potential, he went all-in with the scholarships and gaming arena.
“We’re pretty competitive when we play and we always go in like, ‘We’re going to beat them,'” said Kelly Hays, a computer science major from Glenarden, Md. “Now, they say, ‘Here’s some scholarship money,’ and we’re like, ‘We’re going to beat them more.'”
Students still get the majority of their scholarship money from academic scholarships. Klinker said he could see a school offering full rides as collegiate eSports grow.
For sophomore Ethan Smith, a scholarship would give him some validation. The 20-year-old Akron, Ind., native plans to hone his League of Legends skills over the summer.
“My mom was like, ‘Why do you spend all this time playing video games? It won’t amount to anything,'” Smith said. “Hopefully, it ends up in a scholarship.”