Photo courtesy of Ben Andreas Harding via Flickr.
Pacman might have been a hero of an arcade-happy yesteryear, but as video games evolve, the skills they require are valued both academically and professionally.
Video games and gamers have received a lot of flack over the years. But cultural claims of violence and sexism aside, the art and skill behind gaming has reach a point at which it’s more than a hobby — it’s a profitable sport that can attract wide-scale attention.
As of Fall of 2014, Robert Morris University became the first university to recognize video games as a varsity sport, offering scholarships that cover half of tuition and half of room and board.[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”9lCxvvhqq9sYBVwFJ1axkjAx4ztoWVtM”]While scholarships already exist in regards to the development of video games, Robert Morris University is the first of its kind to honor the play aspect as an official sport. The athletic scholarship has been specifically awarded to students that play the game “League of Legends,” who will fill three competitive varsity teams.
The motive behind this isn’t a complex one, but nor is it obvious: the school hopes it will benefit and motivate what they call an “underserved male population,” though the program is open to women as well.
The hope is to open academic doors for technology-minded kids that, according to the Chicago Tribune, need “an extra boost to get to college and stay there.”
While the tactic behind using gaming to open academic paths for gamers is fairly simplistic, using the sport to boost educational engagement, the implications may be much larger.
Video games such as League of Legends, like other sports, require strategic thinking, teamwork, and coordination that boosts brain power, studies say. Those are good skills for many industries, but on an even more basic level may directly apply to certain professions that would have appeared ridiculous decades ago.
In South Korea, eSports are already a national pastime. But it’s growing in the U.S. too — today, there are people paid to test video games, and gamers paid to advertise video games on high-traffic YouTube channels. There are also professional video game competitors that play in international tournaments (attracting thousands to events), along with careers like video game commentary and coaching.
The US Army also reportedly uses virtual reality and gaming as a recruitment tool for young drone pilots.
Benefits and challenges
Studies yield differing results and conclusions regarding the benefits and pitfalls of gaming as it becomes ubiquitous, advances into realism, and in some cases, manifests as an addiction.
On one hand, video gaming as a sport is, for some, a welcome alternative to high-impact sports like college football, which has been criticized for neglecting athlete safety and exploiting students, among other controversies.
On the other hand, preliminary studies suggest that video games may normalize violence, hurt social skills, and (like any excessive time in front of a screen) negatively impact optical and neurological health or lead to sedentary lifestyles.
The explosive growth in the video game industry is indicative of a booming field of interest. Global revenue for video games is already $20 billion higher than that of the music industry, and not far behind movies, according to the New York Times.
70 billion viewers watch eSports worldwide, usually on the Internet. As big companies look to reach audiences spending time streaming games online, even more money is bound to flow into the e-sport world, lifting its fast-evolving clout to new heights, for better or for worse.
Originally published on October 27, 2014.