What It's Like to Be a Video Game Athlete on College Scholarship

PHOTO: Students on the eSports team at Robert Morris University in Illinois.Courtesy Kurt Melcher
Students on the eSports team at Robert Morris University in Illinois.

Students are getting paid to game at an Illinois university, and the school says the first season of its eSports team is such a success that the program will definitely continue next year.

There are 35 students on the eSports team at Robert Morris University in Aurora, the first school to categorize playing video games as a varsity sport, even offering scholarship funds for the "athletes." The team meets every weekday for practice between 4 and 9 p.m., with an hour break for dinner, and competitions are every Saturday, the school's associate athletic director Kurt Melcher told ABC News.

"It's going great so far," Melcher said, adding that the team's practices are just "like any other sport."

"The coaches set up different scrimmages, different presentations on tactics," he said. "And the same dedication is required."

PHOTO: Robert Morris University Eagles Athletics posted this photo to Twitter, Sept. 22, 2014.@RMUEagles/Twitter
Robert Morris University Eagles Athletics posted this photo to Twitter, Sept. 22, 2014.

The eSports athletes are expected to go to class just like any other student, he said.

"The difference is that when they finish class, they walk fourteen steps over the arena for practice instead of going to the gym," Melcher said.

The high-end gaming arena was built specifically for the eSports team, which was announced this summer. Melcher said the school got more than 100 applications for the 35 spots, and players get up to a 50-percent scholarship covering tuition and room and board.

The eSports athletes play "League of Legends" and battle club teams from other universities every Saturday.

PHOTO: Students on the eSports team at Robert Morris University in Illinois.Courtesy Kurt Melcher
Students on the eSports team at Robert Morris University in Illinois.

"You play a best-of-three series of the games. It's all obviously done online," Melcher said. "You record the game, and send the recordings into the league. Each game lasts about 25 to 30 minutes."

So far, Robert Morris' gamers are undefeated.

But some critics take issue with the school’s encouraging students to play video games.

"We are promoting something that's clinically addictive," said Kimberly Young, a New York psychologist who studies Internet addiction. "So I think we need to be very cautious."

"Korea has over 500 inpatient hospitals in their country dealing with this problem," she added. "They have national screening days for children to look at gaming addiction and Internet addiction. There's obviously a problem. And here we have American schools that are going to give you money to come game?"

PHOTO: Students on the eSports team at Robert Morris University in Illinois.Courtesy Kurt Melcher
Students on the eSports team at Robert Morris University in Illinois.

Melcher said he thinks gaming is fine as long as students maintain a "life balance."

"Our coaches will be on them to make sure they go to class and do what they need to do to be successful," he said. "I think this gives them purpose, and they're doing what they want to do, what they're passionate about. I don't want anyone to play fourteen hours of a game. I think finding that balance is important."