Was Santa good to your little athlete this year?
By athlete, of course, I mean video game player.
Were there lots of video games under the tree that could be the first step toward your son or daughter getting an athletic scholarship?
There was a time, long, long ago when boys and girls (mostly boys) would be thrilled to get a new football or football helmet, shoulder pads or a new basketball for Christmas and parents could dream of the day when they watch their kids playing in high school or college.
Or just be happy watching the kids hurrying outside to join their friends in the backyard to play with their new stuff.
Call it the nerdification or the wussification of America, but that’s becoming more rare every year.
Video game playing has been slowly replacing the actual playing of the games for a long time and the proof may be coming to a college near you.
Robert Morris University Illinois gave athletic – that’s right, ATHLETIC – scholarships to 35 students this year as part of its new e-sports program.
As reported in The New York Times, they trained this fall in a room, “Decked out with jet-black walls, mood lighting and leather game chairs with red piping.”
What athlete doesn’t appreciate mood lighting?
Yep, people who play pretend versions of sports are now officially being considered athletes.
Actually, the Robert Morris Illionis e-athletes aren’t playing pretend sports. They’re League of Legends players. It’s the most played PC game in North America and Europe, with 27 million players per day.
It’s about superheroes fighting other superheroes and trying to destroy the other team’s nexus. Or something.
It ain’t electric football.
Madden Football scholarships can’t be too far away.
Riot Games produces the games and, according to Wikipedia, has organized the League of Legends Championship Series which consists of eight professional teams on each continent.
So, while you may think that the video game you bought for your son or daughter is just another Christmas toy that will end up on a shelf in the garage, it could be your kids’ ticket to a college scholarship.
The kids at Robert Morris Illinois are getting half their tuition and room and board paid for each year – about $20,000.
RMI competes in the Collegiate Star League and, according to the standings I found, is in first place in the North-Illinois Division with an 8-0 record. There are 23 divisions in the North American Region.
Game companies are contributing money for scholarships.
Last February, the University of Washington team won the North American Collegiate Championship. It was watched by 169,000 people online.
Athletic Directors around the country are concerned by the decrease in attendance at college football games.
Pretty scary to think that more and more kids would rather watch virtually real competitions between fictional characters controlled by joy sticks than actual humans playing a real game, but that may be what we’re looking at here.
As The New York Times points out, Twitch, the most popular website for watching people play video games was bought by Amazon.
For $1.1 billion.
So, apparently the next crisis for American parents won’t be getting their kids away from their video screens to go outside and play. It will be getting their kids to play their own video games instead of watching other kids play theirs.
And now for the money quote from Kurt Melcher, the Associate Athletic Director at Robert Morris Illinois, who told the Times that he has received more than a half a dozen calls from athletic directors at other universities, who are interested in developing e-sports programs.
Sorry, the quote actually came from Melcher’s wife, who asked, “Why should [athletic scholarships] only be given to some kid who can put a ball into a hole?”
The fact that Melcher agreed with her is more than a little disturbing.
Pittsburgh ex-TV sportscaster, columnist and talk show host John Steigerwald is the author of the Pittsburgh sports memoir, “Just Watch The Game.” Follow him on Twitter.