Eastern to award scholarships to eSports athletes

Analicia Haynes, Senior Reporter

Eastern is offering a series of scholarships to students who show leadership and dedication to the eSports community.

The scholarships are called “Level Up Scholarships” and are available to current and incoming students. Students receive different monetary amounts based on certain criteria such as their leadership in their eSports team or club.

Josh Norman, the associate vice president for enrollment management, first mentioned this type of scholarship as a possibility in fall 2019 amid the opening of university’s first eSports arena.

A semester later, that possibility became a reality.

Where did the money come from?

Norman said $5,000 was allocated to the Level Up Scholarship fund for its first year.

He said that money comes from a pre-existing scholarship fund that was repurposed for Level Up.

“I have some funds within financial aid where I can take from one place and put it in another,” he said. “There are other scholarships that we have developed (before) for involvement purposes.”

The money in the previous fund was awarded to incoming students if it was needed and if they met a certain criteria. There was no selection process, but there is a selection process with Level Up Scholarships.

“So often when we talk about (scholarship) funds, we’re talking about repurposing existing funds because there isn’t a … pot of money we can draw from,” Norman said.

He said the process of developing scholarships from his standpoint is based on what is effective in recruiting students or what yields better results.

“If we got another scholarship that has a higher impact than (the Level Up Scholarships), then there’s the potential that the Level Up Scholarship can go away,” he said. “I really operate with a dynamic management style from the standpoint that if something is not effective, it’s going to go away or be repurposed.”

Why create a scholarship?

Norman said part of creating this scholarship was to get students who are invested in eSports in high school to come to Eastern.

Then he said those students can capitalize on the eSports opportunity at Eastern, help grow the community and build on the competitive aspect.

Norman said the idea for a scholarship was introduced to him while he was at High School Articulation in Carbondale.

He said a high school counselor told him that her students were attending schools outside of the state because none of the public universities in the state offered eSports scholarships.

“I said, ‘Let me see what I can do,’” Norman said.

He said curbing out-migration — the number of students who are going out of state to pursue their education — has become his mission, especially when there are “12 awesome (public) universities in the state.”

But Norman said he wanted Eastern to be the first public university in Illinois to offer eSports scholarships.

“After I had that personal conversation with (the counselor) and talking to the folks back (at Eastern) about what we can do, (the counselor) asked every one of the representatives at articulation from all of the 12 state universities whether they had these scholarships and the answers were either ‘we don’t’ or ‘I don’t know,’” Norman said. “So I said we will.”

So, how does it work?

Norman said 10 scholarships will be awarded to incoming students.

Meanwhile, Gabe Grant and Ian McCormack, the faculty advisers for the eSports registered student organization on campus, along with several other people will be responsible for determining which current students will receive the remainder of the scholarships.

Grant said they felt like it would be good for admissions to look at incoming students and figure out who qualifies for the scholarship, and those working with current students involved in eSports could determine who gets a scholarship.

Norman said new students who apply and receive the scholarship start at the first level, which is $250. Then if they get involved and become leaders in the eSports community and RSO, they could qualify for the next level the following year and so on until senior year.

The first level is $250, the second level is $500, the third level is $1,000 and the fourth level is $2,000, according to the academic works website.

Norman said when it comes to current students, Grant has some flexibility in how much students can receive and how many students can receive a scholarship so long as he stays within the $5,000 limit.

According to the academic works website, they are looking for individuals who can compete and contribute to a healthy and positive gaming environment in the eSports RSO and arena.

“If selected, these scholarships increase each year as faculty advisers affirm the recipients’ commitment to contributing to the eSports community in any and all of these areas: leadership, coaching, mentorship, sportsmanship and peer support,” according to the website. “The recipient(s) of this scholarship may be eligible to receive it for up to four years. Students can ‘Level Up’ three times.”

Grant said they are looking for current students who are not only leaders in the eSports RSO and on the eSports teams, but who also project positivity in the field.

He said what he and McCormack see the most are the people who are involved with the RSO, like the team captains or the people who are in the coaching sessions or those who are doing other important things aside from just participating on a team.

He said they are looking for an overall commitment to eSports and the community.

“If you’re a triple diamond or triple level platinum player … good for you, but that’s probably not the thing we are going to be looking for. We’re going to be looking for people who are really projecting that positivity that we look for with eSports athletes,” Grant said.

He said it is good to see students getting involved in something they love and taking authority for what they are proud of, or doing something even something as simple as deleting an unapproved game off the hard drive on one of the computers in the arena.

“They’re taking charge. They really want to take care of the space and they care about each other, too. It’s really a fascinating environment to be able to see that,” Grant said.

What does it mean for current students?

Grant said establishing this scholarship gives weight to eSports on Eastern’s campus.

“It changes the perception, particularly for mom and dad who wonders what their kids are doing at school and whether or not this is just a activity that they used to be able to blow off steam (with) or if they’re really being able to contribute to their school in another way,” he said. “(Eastern) is receptive of that, and they are trying to reciprocate that back to show that they value this sort of activity, too.”

He said now eSports athletes can feel like they are representing their school just like any other student.

Eventually the scholarships will help bring in students who will promote growth and encourage a competitive eSports environment. But Grant said right now they want to build consistency and the community and look for those people who are going to be the leaders and take Eastern eSports to the next level.

“This scholarship helps to recognize those people and particularly what is valued in the (eSports) community,” he said. “I always believed that whenever you show people the rewards as a result of their efforts, it’s a good way to be able to motivate them.”

Analicia Haynes can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].