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Video game scholarships not an option at St. Thomas

By , Sports Editor  |  Sunday, July 13, 2014 6:55 PM

For many college students, scholarships are crucial to financing education. Academic scholarships, athletic scholarships and now video game scholarships are all opportunities for students to earn funds toward higher education.

After adding electronic sports to its varsity athletic program, Robert Morris University (Ill.) will be awarding scholarships to students who compete in organized competitions for League of Legends, a popular video game. St. Thomas senior John Pham, a regular League of Legends player, said the scholarships aren’t surprising, given the increasing popularity of the game and electronic sports in general.

Video games sit on display for purchase. Sales of video games in the United States reached $21 billion in 2013. (Tom Pitzen/TommieMedia)

Video games sit on display for purchase. Sales of video games in the United States reached $21 billion in 2013. (Tom Pitzen/TommieMedia)

“League of Legends is getting close to becoming a real sport. There are leagues all around the world and a championship tournament where the grand prize is $1 million,” Pham said. “eSports are gaining popularity and respect everywhere.”

Junior Sarah Stenbeck said there is more to playing video games than most people realize, and believes scholarships are meant to “reward people who do a particular thing well.”

“Playing video games take an immense amount of skill, more than most people think,” Stenbeck said. “I think rewarding that skill is a phenomenal idea.”

Kris Roach, director of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid, agreed that scholarships are meant to reward students for accomplishments, but said St. Thomas has different parameters for financial aid.

“Our financial aid is either part of a need-based program, which is determined by FAFSA and is usually pretty black-and-white,” Roach said. “It can also be merit-based, which is usually awarded for academic achievement.”

While a large portion of financial aid for St. Thomas students may be academically merit-based, Roach said an institution has flexibility in the allocation of aid.

“As an institution, you can choose to have merit-based scholarships where you want, especially if the institution felt like it could introduce scholarships that reflected students’ passions,” Roach said.

Junior Shanshan Liu said giving students scholarships for playing video games may be a slippery slope for some.

“Video games can be fun, but I think they can be addictive too,” Liu said. “It’s OK for entertainment, but giving scholarships for academic accomplishments should remain the most important thing.”

Senior David Robey agreed that schools should have other priorities before giving financial aid for playing video games.

“I think it’s a good idea to diversify scholarships and make them more inclusive to students, but video games are more of a leisure activity,” Robey said. “If anything, I would prefer if schools gave more scholarships to athletes.”

Though other schools may choose to give scholarships to athletes, Roach said St. Thomas “chooses to take academic achievement seriously.”

Junior Matt Willis said he wouldn’t be opposed to video game scholarships because some games, such as League of Legends, require its players to use specialized skills.

“Certain games are so popular because they require the player to use strategy and teamwork,” Willis said. “There’s something to be said about kids who have differing abilities, and the recognition of people’s talents is always a positive thing.”

Tom Pitzen can be reached at pitz2014@stthomas.edu.

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