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U Of M Offering Scholarships For 'E' Sports

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- It might look like a bunch of college students sitting around playing video games.

And it is.

But it's also the newest scholarship sport at the University of Minnesota. That's right. Scholarships for playing video games.

"People love eSports. And it's a real thing," said Adam Thao, president of the U of M's eSports club.

When Thao started the club two years ago, they had 30 students at their first meeting. Now, they have more than 300.

On Saturday at Coffman Union, dozens of college students were in front of their computers for hours on end, playing in a tournament.

Playing, they say, sports.

"eSports is open to everyone," Thao said. "The reason I love eSports is because you don't have to be a beast of nature like LeBron James in basketball… With League of Legends, all you have to do is be able to, like, play the game on a computer."

The U's club favors a game called League of Legends, perhaps best compared to something like Capture the Flag. And what makes it, they say, eSports is an emphasis on teamwork. It's a team game -- requiring coordinated movements and strategy -- to get the win.

"League of Legends is a sport. It's a team, 5-on-5," Thao said. "Kind of like basketball, where you're just trying to get the objective and basically basket. And you don't want to die, that's kind of like a turnover.

"There are really strong individual players in the game --- just like LeBron James, he can carry a team by himself on his back… But the thing is, with League of Legends, you could have really good players individually, but if you're not good as a team as well, then you can't really work together to get that same objective."

Basketball might not be a bad comparison, especially with all the money in it. The club's best players are on scholarship. That's right --- scholarships to play video games.

Earlier this spring, Minnesota's team of six players and two managers competed in the first-ever Big Ten eSports tournament, sponsored by the Big Ten Network --- with each player getting $5,000 and both managers $2,500 – in scholarship money they can spend towards tuition.

Why would the Big Ten have interest in this? Simple --- follow the money. eSports has exploded in popularity in recent years --- the global market is expected to surpass more than $1.1 billion by 2019.

"The revenue in it's crazy," Thao said. "And the competitive scene, it takes a lot of skills."

And just like any other sport, Thao says, there's a reason why all these students came together here to play it in person: The camaraderie.

"It's not meant to be played in your dorm by yourself where you're like kind of isolated," Thao said. "It's meant to be face to face with other people."

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