New technology is changing our definition of athletics. Competitive video games, referred to as e-sports, have surged in popularity in recent years. E-sports generated $463 million in 2016 and is estimated to exceed $1 billion by 2019.[1] 43 million people viewed the world finals of League of Legends, the most popular competitive game.[2] Colleges around the U.S. have thus begun to consider League of Legends as a serious sport. 

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2016 Big Ten League of Legends Invitational, MSU v. OSU

On January 30, of 2017, the Big Ten network launched a League of Legends season between, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Purdue, Rutgers, Wisconsin, and the University of Michigan.[3] Each player on the teams received a $5,000 scholarship provided by Riot Games, the creators of League of Legends, and distributed by Scholarship America. This season concluded on March 27th, with Maryland winning the championship.[4] Riot Games also organizes other national collegiate tournaments, such as the uLoL (university League of Legends) Campus Series. Other organizations like the Collegiate Star League organize e-sports tournaments as well.


Robert Morris University varsity League of Legends team practice

At most colleges, including the University of Michigan, e-sports teams are student-run clubs. A growing number of universities are creating varsity e-sports programs, complete with university funding and scholarships. As of April of 2017, 34 colleges have varsity e-sports teams.[5] The success of e-sports also has raised debates, as many ask whether or not video games should be considered as sports. Nevertheless, e-sports continue to grow in popularity, and an increasing number of people and organizations are taking seriously its future as a sport.

[1] Takahashi, Dean . "Esports market to grow 43% to $463M in 2016 and reach $1.1B by 2019." VentureBeat. January 25, 2016. Accessed June 20, 2017. https://venturebeat.com/2016/01/25/esports-market-to-grow-43-to-465m-in-2016-and-reach-1-1b-by-2019/

[2] Howell, Leo. "League of Legends hosts 14.7 million concurrent viewers during Worlds." ESPN. December 06, 2016. Accessed June 20, 2017. http://www.espn.com/esports/story/_/id/18221739/2016-league-legends-world-championship-numbers.

[3] Rovell, Darren. "The Big Ten Network and Riot Games launch the BTN League of Legends season." ESPN. January 19, 2017. Accessed June 20, 2017. http://www.espn.com/esports/story/_/id/18508637/the-big-ten-network-riot-games-partner-league-legends-college-esports.

[4] Zielonka, Adam. "UMD League of Legends team wins the Big Ten championship, sweeping Illinois." The Diamondback. March 28, 2017. Accessed June 20, 2017. http://www.dbknews.com/2017/03/28/umd-league-of-legends-wins-big-ten-championship/.

[5] Smith, Michael. "Colleges flip the switch on esports." Sports Business Daily. April 24, 2017. Accessed June 20, 2017. http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Journal/Issues/2017/04/24/Colleges/esports.aspx.