The E-sports conundrum

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Rory Plewman, Staff Reporter and Webmaster

League of Legends – E-Sports
Rory Plewman

What is a sport? Is it defined as physical exertion, mental fortitude, team work, or a glorious mashup of all of the above? Dating back ancient times sports have always played a central role in our society, from the original runner at the battle of Marathon to the swathes of youths wrestling at the first “Olympics.” Along the way the pantheon of sports has grown and inducted new members into its ranks, what started as a select few in 500 BC has greatly expanded over time to include favorites such as baseball, basketball, and football. Yet all of these sports seem stuck in the 20th century and bar the advent of instant replay, have yet adapt and shift with the times.
Enter League of Legends, a videogame claiming to be the newest inductee into the selective pantheon of the sporting world. For the unfamiliar, League of Legends is an online videogame in which 10 players divided into two teams of five must utilize champions with the goal of destroying the other teams nexus (home base). This game was founded by Riot Games in 2009 and has taken the world by storm. With over 27 million individual payers logging in every day across the globe it certainly has a large, and very vocal fan base of super-nerds and geeks.
Riot Games has now established professional leagues in the USA, Korea, China and Europe. Akin to the Premiership, or any other major sporting league for that matter, they have teams, sponsorships, and prize money. The 2013 world champions, Korean-based SKT1, pocketed $1 million upon winning the internationally televised event at the Staples center in Los Angeles.
The video game is not only played professionally. It has trickled down into the collegiate level as well. Over 103 colleges have unofficial teams that compete in a college level tournament hosted by Riot Games that boasts a $100,000 prize pot for the victors.
One such team hails from Robert Morris University in Illinois and has just recently shocked the world by becoming the first officially recognized League of Legends program in the United States. RMU plans on treating the program like an official athletic program with official scholarship money and letters of intent. Some have been overjoyed at the news and feel that nerds have finally been vindicated. Alexander Arms, an events coordinator for PlanIt Interactive certainly agrees. “A sport is an activity which a bunch of people can get into. I don’t think it’s restrictive by physicality,” he said. “League of Legends definitely fits the bill and should be considered a sport.” RMU President Michael P. Viollt is all for the integration. “There is a differentiation of skill level that you can draw a lot of correlation with traditional sports,” he said in a recent press release. “There’s teamwork, there’s strategy, [players] have to practice a lot.” Many more are somewhat miffed by the announcement. “Sports are physical,” Cincinnati Reds hitting coach Lee Tinsley said. “Videogames aren’t.”
Robert Morris athletic director Kurt Melcher defended the schools decision in a press release. “[The nerd population] is a student population that has been under-served. It’s massive for high schoolers. They play this game nonstop,” he said. “[We’re] giving the option for the best to do something they love in college and [it’s] a great opportunity for them.”
Does this mark the beginning of an era? Have “traditional” sports been sidelined by their E-sports contemporaries? Or will nerd culture and sports culture continue to exist as separate entities? Will League of Legends be shunned from the sports pantheon? Only time will tell.

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