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Video game athletes have a new achievement to unlock: college eSports scholarships

Remember when you used to spend hours upon hours playing video games in your college dorm when you should’ve been studying for that exam the next morning, only to find yourself awake and anxious at 3 a.m. wishing there were a way to somehow making gaming beneficial, not detrimental, to your time at college? Robert Morris University Illinois has found a way to do just that: Avid League of Legends players who are enrolled at the university this fall will have an athletic scholarship to play for.

The university, based in Chicago, announced earlier this month that it’s offering a gaming scholarship to students who play League of Legends, taking a bold and sure-to-be criticized step toward legitimizing eSports. 

“Robert Morris University has always been at the forefront of providing opportunities for a diverse student population with different interests and skills,” according to Kurt Melcher, associate athletic director at Robert Morris University. “League of Legends is a competitive, challenging game which requires significant amount of teamwork to be successful.”

The scholarship would pay for up to 50 percent of a qualifying student’s tuition and 50 percent of their room and board, which amounts to what could be $19,000 for each student in the program this fall.

“It’s interesting,” Melcher tells the Associated Press. “There’s two sides: There’s the gamers side, who feel like they’ve been vindicated or liberated. Then there’s the hardcore athletes side, who say, `What do you mean? That’s not a sport.’”

The program is looking for eSports athletes with experience in the League of Legends High School Starleague, which includes more than 750 schools in the U.S. and Canada, or a similar caliber of competition.

Robert Morris University’s League of Legends squad will be joining the Collegiate Star League, which comprises 103 educational institutions, including Harvard, Arizona State and George Washington University. The university will also be hiring a coach for the team.

Riot Games’ League of Legends earned $624 million in revenue in 2013, and the game boasts more than 27 million daily players.

News of a video gaming scholarship is surely music to the ears of the more than 1,000 players (at least when the headphones are off in between matches) participating in this year’s Major League Gaming Championships in Anaheim, California, which ends today.