May 2, 2015 | Written By: JP Miller
I had the honor of speaking with Kurt Melcher and some of his top leading players with the Eagles eSports League of Legends Team. Robert Morris University is the only college that offers their players athletic scholarships to compete against other intramural eSports teams. eLetes (electronic athletes) are required to keep a GPA of at least 2.0, attend evening long practices at least four days a week and remain in good standing with the university. Some discredit the idea of competitive gaming as an athletic sport, but video game enthusiasts will quickly comprehend the validity of MOBA games as a spectator sport as much as any other traditional sport. Video game players are competitive, cooperative, highly skilled in their specialized roles and knowledgeable about their sport.
The team that Kurt Melcher, RMU’s athletic director has assembled is the best in their class. The top tier Eagles have finished the regular season undefeated and are preparing to go to the NACC finals in Los Angeles, California on May 2-3. They are the first Midwestern team to accomplish this feat, but it’s not by accident that the Eagles hold this honor rather than some other collegiate team in the Midwest.
That’s right, it’s no coincidence that the Eagles are mopping up the floor with fallen champions of the League. As stated, they are the first and currently the only intermural team to offer eSports scholarships for high-ranking players. The board of directors supported Mr. Melcher’s initiative to fund and create an eSports facility, and it is nothing short of outstanding. It’s a gamers paradise with 35 high-powered PCs, black and red gamer chairs that exude elite status, and a life-sized image of an ice-cold LoL champion.
I hung out with Kurt, one of his assistant coaches, Jose, and about a dozen team members. This LoL team may be new but its elite players are by no means rookies. Several Eagles were semi-pro gamers who found a way to obtain glory and prestige while earning an education with RMU.
The elite tier of players were warming up for a skirmish with one of the West Coast teams in California while 2nd and 3rd tier players worked on their rankings or relaxed with WoW or other first-person shooters. I began talking with one of the players on the 2nd tier, a young man named Derrick who’s studying business. “Most people assume that we’re all IT techs or going into computers, but we’re all interested in different things. We have a lot of business people, Communications, one of our guys is in the culinary program.”
Such a wide swath of interests indicates that MOBA games are not relegated to an intimate community of hard-core gamers, but appeal to a wide variety of youths from multiple backgrounds and cultures. MOBA tournaments are a thing of the present and may certainly dominate the future of competitive gaming.
Jose, assistant coach for the Eagles prepped his players for the impending skirmish and hopped on his terminal to manage the team. The young men spoke about strategy and discussed the best combination of champions to select in order to best their opponents. The champions were selected and the race to the other side of the map began. The five Eagles cooperatively set their paths and called for assists as needed. In the heat of battle one champion neared death, his teammates came in to help ward off California, but his screen went grey and didn’t revive. Worked up, fueled by adrenaline, his volume began to rise and his tone held heavy notes of frustration. The competition could have easily soured, but his teammates talked him down, helped bring him back to focus and he was able to productively rejoin the battle after respawning. The Eagles, as a fully functional five-person team, went on to defeat California.
A lot is given to these young men. They are given the chance to attend university for free or discounted pricing, gain access to a world-class computer lab/gaming arena and have the opportunity to gain prestige within the very enthusiastic MOBA community. In return, much is expected. It’s not by chance that the Eagles are undefeated and ready to master the NACC tournaments. The players were vetted for dedication, competency and elite skills. They practice together for long hours on weekday evenings and several of the highest ranked team members share residencies with one another.
They have the full support of Mr. Melcher and his coaches as well. I visited on a quiet Thursday, the skirmish was inconsequential, but Mr. Melcher was on sight the entire evening. The Eagles are well funded, supported, sponsored, equipped and trained. They are taken as seriously as any other intramural sport, and as a consequence have soared above the ranks and are achieving national recognition with anyone who follows the NACC tournaments.
The Midwest is full of enthusiastic gamers who are talented and can stand against heavy competition in professional events. The work that Kurt Melcher and the Eagles have done at Robert Morris University is testament to this point.
When asked about his methods Mr. Melcher expressed his belief that other colleges would follow in RMU’s footsteps. “We are in the forefront and want to stay in the lead,” he said. If the Eagles can sweep the NACC they’ll certainly justify every expense RMU has made in supporting eSports and bring long overdue recognition to the Midwest.