Derek Micheau grew up playing baseball in Olympia, Washington. He recently got a sports scholarship to Robert Morris University in Chicago, but not for America’s favorite pastime.
Instead, Derek will be the first student in America to graduate with a scholarship in e-sports.
He took up online gaming after an injury stopped him from playing baseball.
Speaking with KUOW’s Bill Radke and his father, Doug Micheau, Derek said video games were part of a rebellious teen stage.
Doug’s response to his son's gaming habits was what you might expect from a parent: “Can’t you come out in the light of day and do some more healthful activities?”
Derek approached his parents one day saying that he had gotten an email about playing e-sports in college.
“The first thing out of my wife's and my mouths was, ‘Well you didn’t send them any money did you?’” Doug said.
The Micheau family did their research and decided that it wasn’t a scam at all.
“Once we visited, once we went through what Robert Morris was about and what their plan was, it was pretty clear that it was going to be a great opportunity,” Derek said.
The competitions Derek played in were intense – and more watched than many other traditional sports with tens of thousands of people watching online or even at the venues themselves. One of those fans was Derek’s father.
“Seeing that strategy emerge and the mechanics of their play, recognizing the difficulty and the challenges that they’re going through when they’re doing it wasn’t unlike watching him play chess when he was a youngster,” Doug said.
Derek wears a headset that pipes in white noise to help him concentrate, but it’s still a nerve wracking experience.
“When you do something really well or you do something really bad, there’s just a massive eruption from the crowd,” he said. “No amount of white noise can block out that kind of volume, so the adrenaline rush is just spectacular.”
Derek and Doug consider e-sports to be on the same playing field with traditional sports due to mental acuity, hand-eye coordination, reaction time and work it takes to succeed.
“Although initially I didn’t really believe it was a sport, I think overall the work and time and preparation I put into it – it actually kind of turned into a sport for me,” Derek said.
He’s set to graduate after this coming school year and that means retirement. He said others have aspirations to go pro, but this will be his last hurrah.
For other students and their parents coming up, he has some advice:
“I would say that if your kid has a true passion for what he wants to do, and you can see that he really wants to make something of himself in this, it is definitely a growing field.
“I'm not saying that this is the perfect alternative for everyone. I'm not saying people should give up sports.
“But if this is your true calling and your kid is very interested in it, I think he deserves the shot. Or she.”
Produced for the Web by Kara McDermott.