Kurt Melcher was surfing the Internet one day when he decided to search for an old favorite: Starcraft. Melcher, 45, played the computer game during and shortly after college, and he wanted to see if he could find any news on it. He discovered the original 1998 game evolved into Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty in 2010. Melcher was surprised to find the sequel is played competitively. He also discovered League of Legends, another Microsoft Windows and OS X video game with a competitive following.
"I was just shocked at the size and scope and scale and the passion of the community," Melcher tells ThePostGame. "It's played at the high school level and the collegiate level and even professionally."
Melcher also happens to be associate athletic director at Robert Morris University-Illinois in Chicago. Rather than a hobby, he saw League of Legends as an opportunity to broaden the athletic department. Melcher brought the idea of giving out video game scholarships to Athletic Director Megan Smith Eggert, and the duo pitched the idea to RMU President Michael P. Viollt.
"To his credit, he's forward thinking," Melcher says. "He looked at it and he thought it made a lot of sense."
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."
The scholarships will not exceed 50 percent of tuition and 50 percent room and board. For reference, RMU costs $7,900 and housing with meals is $3,600 per quarter.
RMU would like 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.
RMU Becomes First University to Offer Gaming Scholarships With the Addition of eSports to Varsity Lineup - http://t.co/YVn2Y1H4KM
— RMU Eagles Athletics (@RMUEagles) June 11, 2014
The athletic department's first step was getting the word out. Now, the school needs to find a coach. With the help of Riot Games, the developer of League of Legends, the coaching search is off to a fast start in the first two weeks.
"[Riot] has been providing a couple ideas and we've had a couple people contact us," Melcher says. "We've been going through that applicant base and we'll hopefully start interviewing next week."
A few upperclassmen have embraced the team and announced their credentials in League of Legends. Melcher says students are also trying to recruit friends for the team. He is confident there will be enough demand for the first season this September, with the new coach making the necessary cuts.
The players, or the coach for that matter, can be male or female. He says he has not personally crunched the numbers, but the administration is not worried about breaking any guidelines of Title IX.
League of Legends now has its own page on the Robert Morris Eagles' Athletics website.
WLS-TV in Chicago interviewed one of the scholarship candidates:
As for League of Legends, it is one of the most popular video games in the world on Windows and OS X. In January, The Wall Street Journal reported about 27 million people play the game each day. Riot Games' annual North American Collegiate Championship provides a $100,000 scholarship prize to the winning team.
Parents, if you are worried about your children's video game obsession hindered their abilities to get accepted into college, well, this may be your way out. If they get good enough, you may even save money.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.
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