SPECIAL REPORT: Competitive E-Sports could soon lead to college - WEEK.com: Peoria-area News, Weather, Sports

SPECIAL REPORT: Competitive E-Sports could soon lead to college scholarships

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BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (WEEK) -- -

Have you ever heard of an E-Sport? If not, you will in the next few years.

Colleges across North America are adding competitive video games to their sports roster and even offering scholarships.

It might sound crazy, but there's a new kind of sport - an electronic one, if you'll believe it - that's drawing in hundreds of thousands of viewers every week.

They train together, work on strategy; watch highlights, scout opposing teams, and practice, practice, practice. It's not football or basketball. In fact, this sport doesn't involve a ball at all. It's a computer game called League of Legends, and its popularity is exploding.

"So League of Legends is five person team against another five person team, and the objective of the game is to destroy the enemy's base," said Andrew Reddington, the interim E-Sports coach at Illinois Wesleyan University.

Last year's League of Legends World tournament drew over 43 million viewers online, three million more than Game 7 of the world series.

And it's that popularity that's getting schools - such as Illinois Wesleyan University - to invest in a full-fledged 12-person varsity team.

"This is an opportunity for the University to provide a quality experience for tech-savvy, highly capable students,” said Dr. Karla Carney-Hall, Ph.D, the Dean of Students at IWU.

Starting in fall 2018, these students could very well be a part of Wesleyan's official team. For right now, they're the Titans, and they'll have a new, dedicated gaming arena on-campus and a full-time coach.

It's treated as an actual sport with daily player practices, tryouts, and training. 

“Whereas basketball and football they show off brute strength and maybe physical prowess, with League of Legends here, you have reflexive dexterity and you have this hand-eye coordination that's extremely necessary," said Kyle Fahsl, a freshman at IWU.

So why put all this money and effort into a video game? Wesleyan and the Titans says it's for the soft skills that are in high demand by employers.

Riot Games, the company that owns League of Legends, wants more schools to get involved. Just recently, they partnered with the Big 10 network to get twelve Big 10 schools to compete in their own league.

"I think in the last year or so, we've really started to see that there's a big potential and a big future for this, and so we've been really focusing on how to achieve that," said Michael Sherman, associate E-Sports Manager, College for Riot Games.

Twenty-five schools across the US offer scholarships for League gaming, with more added every year.

At Wesleyan, the Titans continue their training. There's no offering of scholarships right now, and there's not even a guarantee any of them will make the official team.

For now, though, their love of a game is bringing them together, as friends and as athletes, to transform the sports scene.

"It has a lot of things in it; teamwork, cooperation, communication, strategy...It's more than a game that just helps you relax yourself,” said Tao “Paul” Jin, an IWU sophomore. “That proves that, you know, I'm not just wasting my time playing games."

Research suggests global E-sports revenue will eclipse $1 billion in just a few years. 25 News Sports Director Jim Mattson said the IHSA is investigating League of Legends as an emerging sport in the next few years.

So the next time you see your kids playing a video game, remember: there may just be a future for them in it.

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