Great ideas often develop through the most inconspicuous of channels: For Scott Dalrymple, the idea struck while playing the video game Madden NFL. Dalrymple, hired as the president of Columbia College in early 2014, wanted to engage the campus, so he challenged students to a competition on the virtual gridiron — a Madden NFL tournament.
The challenge was a hit and highlighted the potential of video game competition at the college level. “I just started to realize that was the kind of energy I wanted to continue,” Dalrymple says of the Madden tournament. “And we started to brainstorm: How could we continue that?”
Now, Columbia College is the fifth college in the nation to create a team* and offer scholarships for the e-sports game League of Legends, a multiplayer strategy-based game that has generated several professional and amateur leagues across the country. “I think you’ll see that number grows as other colleges realize these games are here to stay,” Dalrymple says. E-sports are what the gaming world calls professional, competitive videogaming.
The amount of scholarship money the college will give students will depend on academic achievements, federal funding and other factors, says Bryan Curtis, the new director of e-sports at the college.
The team’s coaches, Duong Pham and Matt Meininger, are currently recruiting for the team’s inaugural season this fall. The college has allotted partial scholarships for two teams of six players each. Teams will be chosen based on player chemistry and skill level. Five players have already been recruited; the remaining slots will be filled by the end of summer.
“You have to put in enough hours to show that you’re a serious player,” Pham says of his recruiting strategy. He also stresses the importance of academics. If players aren’t serious about their studies, they can’t play.
Columbia College has set aside $65,000 to renovate an old soccer locker room into a game hut, says Cliff Jarvis, executive director of plant and facilities operations. The hut’s early design plans have a futuristic look reminiscent of the movie Tron. The interior will be adorned with lines of fluorescent blue lights and will have multiple TV screens, computers, game consoles and other equipment essential for the players.
“The game hut isn’t just a place to practice but something to show our sense of innovation and our care for the student experience,” Pham says.
The team plans to compete in the North American Collegiate Championship, a League of Legends series, in the fall. “We have an expectation of being a major force in the League of Legends,” Dalrymple says. “That’s the goal.”
*Columbia college is the fifth school to create an e-sport team. A previous version of this article stated this incorrectly.