Video games aren’t just a recreational hobby anymore. Amherst Steele’s Jordan Zakrajsek has the papers to prove it.
The senior will attend Lourdes University in Sylvania this fall on a full athletic scholarship to play “League of Legends” on the school’s eSports team. He’s ranked in the top 0.8 percent of all online players in the country.
Last year, Riot Games estimated the game draws more than 100 million players on a monthly basis worldwide. Teams compete in 20- to 60-minute matches with the goal of destroying the opposition’s base after fighting through various defense structures.
“Colleges are looking for the best of the best and those who can work well on a team,” said Zakrajsek. “I try to play daily and keep my skills up. I’ve been playing the game for over five years now. I reached out to Lourdes because they’re close and just starting up their eSports program. We talked for a while and it ended up being the right fit for everyone.”
Robert Morris University in Chicago became the first school to offer eSports scholarships in 2014. Since then, that list has grown to include Harvard, Florida State, and other Ohio schools such as Miami and Tiffin University.
“It feels great knowing something I’ve been doing for a long time is growing like this,” Zakrajsek said. “Gaming isn’t always the most popular thing to do, but seeing how big it’s getting is very satisfying. My legs are shaking right now.”
He plans to study psychology at Lourdes but didn’t rule out the option of professional gaming in the future. Top “League of Legends” players regularly take home yearly earnings in the six-figure range with some even approaching $1 million.
“I don’t know if I’m quite there yet,”said Zakrajsek. “I’ve done a few competitions and came in first at one of them. Nothing too huge, though.”
His father, Rick, said the family quickly went from telling Jordan he was spending too much time gaming to encouraging him to practice as much as possible.
“It’s pretty unbelievable,” he said. “Every time I tell someone, they don’t believe it. They say they didn’t even know scholarships like this existed. It’s a running joke in our family that we used to try to run him off the computer and get outside. Now he comes out of his room and we say, ‘What are you doing out here?’ Getting him into something he loves and performing at a high level is great. Getting schooling because of it is just incredible.”
Amherst Comets athletic director Casey Wolf said eSports and Zakrajsek’s scholarship are products of a changing world.
“Obviously, anytime a student has a chance to get their school paid for they need to take advantage,” he said. “Jordan is very proficient in this game and it’s a well-deserved scholarship. People nowadays are growing up with technology and things like this are people showing that. It’s the way the world is going. My kids don’t even know what a phone conversation is without being able to see the other person. They think everything is FaceTime.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.