On Oct. 27, 2009, Riot Games, a Los Angeles-based video game publisher, released its latest version of League of Legends (commonly known as LoL in the gaming community).

Supported by micro-transactions, a business model where users can purchase virtual goods for small sums of real currency, League of Legends was inspired by popular precursors World of Warcraft and Defense of the Ancients. By 2012, League of Legends was the most-played PC game in the world, with a startling 1.3 billion hours of aggregate gameplay.

By 2014, more than 67 million people played League of Legends each month, 27 million of whom played every day. 7.5 million players played concurrently during peak hours.

Riot Games holds an annual Championship Series in Los Angeles and Berlin, where 10 teams from each continent compete for cash prizes as large as $2.3 million, the largest prize pool in “eSport” history. Consolation prizes include real silver trophies forged by English luxury leather and silverware company Thomas Lyte.

Now, the University of California, Irvine is the first public university to launch a League of Legends eSport scholarship program beginning fall 2016. UCI follows six private schools that have developed scholarships for LoL players.

What are eSports?

Esports, an abbreviation of electronic sports, is a form of sport where a majority of the competition’s aspects are facilitated by electronic systems with human-mediated events. eSporting events began to sprout in the late 1990s and early 2000s, primarily between amateurs. Now, several leagues have formed, and new breeds of professional athletes are emerging in the sporting world. eSports have become so prominent that even sporting media outlets like ESPN, an industry leader in sporting news, have whole departments dedicated to eSports.

How does a video game qualify as a sport?

League of Legends is a game where two teams of five mythical characters fight through protective walls, towers and each other to destroy the opposing team’s base. According to Forbes.com, eSports “requires incredible quick reflexes, teamwork and strategy to win, just like college sports — although, technically, UCI is giving out academic instead of athletic scholarships.”

League of Legends is so popular on college campuses, mostly at the club level, that Riot Games holds its own collegiate Final Four. This April, Robert University, Georgia Tech, the University of British Columbia and the University of Maryland will compete in Boston for a National Championship title.

Are the programs controversial?

Forbes.com reported a university survey found 72 percent of UCI students identified as gamers and 89 percent supported the formation of an eSports team.

“The UCI community is one of over 300 student-run gaming clubs we currently support,” Ramon Hermann, head of the collegiate program at Riot Games, said. “We’re honored to work with UCI to create a permanent home for gamers on campus and hope this will inspire similar programs at colleges and universities across North America.”

Do they have facilities?

UCI has constructed a 3,500-square-foot arena that houses 80 high-end PCs, giving it a potential advantage over other schools in future competitions. Players may even begin to see themselves on ESPN highlight reels, which is an extra incentive to train in the state-of-the-art facility.


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