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At least that was the case for Georgia teen Nick Montrief, who is a freshman at University of Akron. The esports athlete was recruited to play on the A-Team for the school’s Rocket League program. Montrief’s success demonstrates how esports is infiltrating the mainstream and becoming a viable career path for gamers, sometimes even to the surprise of the players themselves.
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“I never thought that I’d be playing a varsity anything for a college, let alone esports,” Montrief tells In The Know. “Once I started playing video games more competitively, I realized that there was really an opportunity.”
Although he played video games as a kid, he always saw it as a hobby, not a career. Then Montrief learned by watching YouTube videos that esports was an entire industry. That’s when he became more invested in playing competitively. His friends and family were also a little slow to realize the doors that gaming could open for him —until Montrief was on top, that is.
“None of my family had realized that. None of my friends had realized that,” he says. “Then, all of a sudden, I’m talking to them out of the blue, saying, ‘Hey, I’m in the top 0.1% of this video game. And there’s a chance for me to earn money from it.'”
That video game is, of course, Rocket League, a vehicular soccer game that first launched in 2015. The teen has since won two PlayVS Rocket League State Championships, which led to his recruitment at the University of Akron. But even Montrief’s esports coach Hunter Walls-Wood is shocked at gaming’s newly found place in academia.
“If you had told me a couple of years ago that there would be collegiate esports, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Walls-Wood says. “Even when I was in college, it was such a niche thing.”
Now, esports athletes have full-time staff, facilities, structured leagues and huge scholarship endowments from universities. Walls-Wood recommends PlayVS for high school and college students looking to gain experience in competitive gaming.
“They offer tournaments throughout the year,” Walls-Wood explains. “But fall and spring, they’re playing, they offer over $100,000 in scholarship dollars with their price pool in games like Fortnite, Overwatch, Rocket League, Madden, FIFA, you name it.”
Montrief is hopeful that the U.S. will look to other countries like Japan, which invests heavily in their esports athletes.
“They have so many sponsorships, so many players. And they’re really showing us what the possibilities of esports is,” Montrief says. “I think the future of video games and esports is massive. It’s only a matter of time until esports is on everybody’s televisions.”
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