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Revenge of the Nerds: Gamers Get Athletic Scholarships

Christine DiGangi

Every young video-game addict’s dream just came true: There’s now a college athletic scholarship for exceptionally talented “League of Legends” players.

Robert Morris University Illinois announced June 11 the addition of an eSports varsity lineup and a new collegiate-gamer recruiting effort. RMU will join the Collegiate Star League, a group of 103 colleges and universities, where RMU gamers will compete against players from institutions like Harvard and George Washington University.

According to the League of Legends High School Starleague (which includes 750 schools), the university is the first to offer League of Legends as a varsity-level sport, and RMU is looking for students with experience in the high school league or something comparable. The scholarships will cover up to 50% of tuition and room and board, and students seeking a spot on the team will also have the $20 RMU application fee waived, according to a news release on the athletics website.

The savings doesn’t stop there: The Collegiate Star League is a gateway to more money, because gamers can qualify for Riot’s North American Collegiate Championship and $100,000 in scholarship money.

Scholarships for gamers are pretty common, said Mark Kantrowitz, senior vice president & publisher of Edvisors.com.

“There are also scholarships for creators of video games,” he wrote in an email to Credit.com. “For example, there’s a $3,000 scholarship for women and minority students interested in pursuing careers in video game arts sponsored by the ESA Foundation.”

Adding gaming as a varsity sport and offering an athletic scholarship is certainly a different take on helping gamers get college degrees, but there are weirder scholarships out there.

“It is not necessarily the most unusual scholarship sponsored by a college or university,” Kantrowitz said. “There are several listed on our website, including a Rube Goldberg Machine contest, a scholarship for a left-handed student, a scholarship for singing the national anthem with sincerity and, of course, the scholarship for someone born with a last name of Zolp.”

Tuition at RMU is $22,200, and room and board in downtown Chicago is $14,400. That puts the first year of undergrad at $36,600, which is above the Illinois average for private schools ($30,094). That scholarship could be really helpful to prospective students looking to avoid student loan debt.

Students who graduate from Illinois colleges and universities have the 15th highest average debt load in the country ($28,028), according to the Project on Student Debt. Scholarships are crucial to avoiding student debt, because the inability to afford student loans can cause painful financial issues for borrowers, like wage garnishment and a poor credit score. (You can see how student loans impact your credit by getting your free credit data through Credit.com.) In reasonable amounts — many experts recommend a debt load that is equal to or less than your starting salary out of college — student loans are very helpful tools for people pursuing higher education degrees. It’s when borrowers fail to balance loans with savings and scholarships they run into problems.

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