When Jordan Zakrajsek saw the 2012 League of Legends World Championship finals on T.V., gaming became a part of his life.
And once he got his first gaming computer about a year later, he was hooked.
“Not including high school, he does three things in his life,” says Zakrajsek’s father, Rick. “He sleeps, works one or two days a week and he plays the rest of the time.”
And now, Zakrajsek is moving on to Lourdes University in Ohio, with a varsity athletic scholarship. But it’s not for football or basketball: It’s for the multiplayer online battle game League of Legends.
Once Zakrajsek and his father heard about eSports scholarships first being offered by Robert Morris University in 2014, they knew there was an opportunity to put his gaming skills to use. Zakrajsek declined an offer from Robert Morris and instead chose Lourdes, which will become the 17th U.S. college to offer an eSports program this fall.
As a player for Lourdes’ eSports program, Zakrajsek will be on a team with around 27 other players who compete online against other college teams across the country. Players will have their own private gaming arena, fit with 25 computer stations for practice and competition in four games: League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm, Hearthstone and Super Smash Bros.
Rick Zakrajsek says it was hard at first to digest the transition from his son playing team sports like football, baseball and basketball, to sitting inside playing video games.
“It started off with ‘Get out of your room’ and ‘Why aren’t you going outside?’” says Rick Zakrajsek. “As time went on, we could start to see it was his outlet and what drove him. You could start to see the passion come about for playing.”
Zakrajsek now has a gaming chair, two computer screens — one that’s a 32-inch T.V. that he uses as a secondary screen — and a special gaming keyboard.
League of Legends has more than 100 million monthly players worldwide. At age 18, Zakrajsek says he’s now ranked in the top .36% in North America for the game, a ranking that will be tough for him to improve.
“There’s still a lot of progression needed to be higher than that,” says Zakrajsek. “There is a lot of skill difference from where I am to the professional level. If possible, I’d love to win a championship.”
The 2016 League of Legends World Championship finals brought in more than 43 million viewers. That’s more than other popular sporting events, such as game 7 of the NBA finals, which had 30.8 million viewers, and the most-watched night of the Olympics, which had 33.4 million viewers.
As eSports’ popularity has increased, so has the money to be made.
The 2016 League of Legends World Championship offered a $5.07 million prize pool. Next month’s Dota 2 International Championship will have a prize pool of more than $20 million and the Call of Duty World League championship in Orlando in August will have a pool of $1.5 million.
Cory Cahill, the Lourdes eSports director who also doubles as the men’s and women’s assistant volleyball coach, says they’ll be faced with some tough competition this school year.
“There are some very established programs throughout the country that have been doing it a lot longer and have multiple game titles,” says Cahill. “In the end game, we’re recruiting quality kids to help build our community.”
Cahill says Zakrajsek was one of the recruits to reach out to him early on after Lourdes announced in January they were forming an eSports team.
“[Zakrajsek’s] father has been really supportive of him and of his gaming,” Cahill says. “Overall, he’s going to be a positive addition because of his attitude and the type of guy he is.”
Ramsey Touchberry is a University of Florida student and a USA TODAY College correspondent.