OPRF senior gets eSports scholarship

Ranked one of top players in North America

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By James Kay

Sports Editor

When it comes to League of Legends, OPRF senior Drew Neiburger is in a league of his own.

With the rise of eSports over the last decade, colleges have started to invest in the realm of gaming by offering scholarships to prospective students who know their way around the sticks. After rising to the top .005 percent in North America for League of Legends players, Neiburger has accepted an offer to be a "midlaner" on Illinois State University's League of Legends eSports team.

"I was never competitive until I started playing video games," said Neiburger. "Since then, I've fallen in love with League [of Legends]. I was really bad at first but then I started to get better and realized I was really good at it. It's really cool to see colleges invest in it and get to the point where they can offer scholarships."

League of Legends is an online computer game that features two teams that try to destroy each other's bases. It has become one of the most popular video games in the world and has millions of daily users.

Neiburger was first introduced to the game in 2013 when he was at a friend's house for a sleepover. After falling in love with the game, Drew and his brother Levi started an eSports team at OPRF, which is a part of the Illinois High School Esports Association and found other programs in the area to compete against in tournaments.

Eventually, he made his way onto different teams and tried out for a semi-professional team called "Fruition ESports" which consisted of players who were really good at the game but didn't have competitive experience. Despite their inexperience, they ended up winning the first tournament they played together, which opened Neiburger's eyes to what he could do with eSports.

"Once we won, I thought to myself, 'wow, I really accomplished something,'" said Neiburger. "That was kind of like a little dopamine hit. Like, I want to do that again. So I kept playing in tournaments with a team and I went from team to team."

One notable gaming event for Neiburger on "Fruition eSports" came when they faced Maryville University which, according to Neiburger, is considered one of the best college teams. Before every game is played, there are predictions set for how the teams will perform in the match. Neiburger's team had a one percent chance of winning in a best of five series. However, they ended up taking two games from Maryville and almost pulled off the upset.

As he started to build up his profile as a gamer and practiced League of Legends more, Neiburger and his parents butted heads over how much time he was spending on the game. However, his mother, Barbara Dolan, reached a point where she gave him the responsibility of managing his own priorities.

"I used to say, 'there has to be limits,' or 'no, you can't play after 7 o'clock at night,'" said Dolan. "It was a constant battle. I ended up getting so frustrated that I ended up going to a conference that's message was, 'Let go. It's their life.' When I got back, I was able to let go and he told me about his athletic scholarships for eSport athletes.'"

Since their incipient conversations around the opportunities eSports could provide Neiburger, the family supports him by watching the live streams of his matches. Dolan said they watch the streams after Neiburger is done with them so that the internet connection is only being used by him.

"It's been amazing watching him become a great player, but also now has phenomenal hand eye coordination," said Dolan. "The game has helped him to the point where he can type 100 words per minute."

While the terms of his scholarship are still being worked out, Neiburger is going to be joining an Illinois State team that has put resources towards its program (including a computer lab for the gamers, hiring of coaches and five other players who have scholarships). He's hoping his story will show people that there is opportunity in eSports and that the stigma attached to gaming doesn't represent the actual experience and lessons that come from it.

"I like telling people about the scholarship because I want people to know that video games aren't useless," said Neiburger. "I've gotten good at being a leader and having a loud voice to communicate to people about what I want from them. I'm really good at getting on people's good side and making sure not to tick them off. It's kind of ironic, but a video game where I don't talk to people has gotten me people skills."

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Reader Comments

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Ada Johnson Tikkanen  

Posted: May 6th, 2020 7:33 PM

way to go Drew!

Barbara A. Dolan  

Posted: May 6th, 2020 2:21 PM

Thanks for the story, James. Drew's father, Ben, and I are very proud of him. He's worked hard to get where he is and loves the idea that he can help other kids gain acceptance for the online games they love and are great at.

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