ESPORTS: Changing what it means to be a student-athlete

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The world of competitive video gaming is on the rise. 

Some Tri-Cities colleges and universities are offering athletic scholarships for Esports. 

King University just finished the first year with the program, while Milligan College plans to add a team in the Fall. 

News Channel 11’s Caroline Corrigan found out how Esports is changing what it means to be a student-athlete.

In 2018, King University joined more than 80 colleges and universities to offer Esports at a Varsity level, recognized by the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE).

With the rapid growth of Esports, King Esports Head Coach Jeff Shell said officials wanted to get a team established early. 

He said the program also reaches a group of students who are under-represented. 

“Maybe there’s that high school student that felt like they never had an opportunity to get their story told, that they can join this community that we’re building here and kind of get that sense of achievement that comes with being on a team,” Shell said. 

Of the 12 students on this year’s team, Shell said eight were recruited through high school and online tournaments. 

“We also offer athletic scholarships just the same like a soccer player or a baseball player would get for playing for King while they were in school,” Shell said. 

He said the scholarships can cover anywhere from 15%-25% of the student’s tuition. 

King University isn’t the only school in the Tri-Cities changing the perception of student-athletes. 

Esports Head Coach Micah Ridley said Milligan College will add an Esports program in the Fall. 

“I think it’s being on top of times,” Ridley said. “We’re trying to be forward thinking and grow a program that’s appealing to the current generation.”

Like King’s Esports program, Milligan’s team will compete in multiplayer tournaments featuring games like League of Legends and Overwatch. 

For King’s League of Legends Captain Nate Williams, playing for a collegiate Esports team is something he’s always wanted to do.  

“I’ve played video games ever since I was five so just the fact that I get to play it at a collegiate level on scholarship, it’s really nice,” Williams said. “I think playing in a team atmosphere definitely was a lot more different. It helped my gameplay a lot more.”

Similar to other collegiate sports teams, Shell said the students do practice together. 

“Each game has a separate practice day so each team will practice three days a week, for usually about two to three hours a day and then as well as any individual practice they may do outside on their own,” Shell said. 

It’s the practice that has paid off for the King Esports team this year. 

“We actually just got back a few weeks ago from Albany, New York for our conference championships,” Shell said. “Both teams placed top eight. There were around 21 to 22 teams that attended the event so for being a first-year program we were obviously really excited we were able to show up and do so well.”

So the next time you think your kid might be spending too much time ranking up on League of Legends, it’s gaming that could land them an athletic scholarship.

The NCAA has expressed interest in moving toward collegiate Esports, many people are calling it ‘the next big thing.’

Both King University and Milligan College are looking for students to join their teams this Fall. 

To learn more information about King’s Esports team, you can visit their website here

If you’re interested in learning more about Milligan’s Esports team, you can visit their website here

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