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A Park graduate is gaming at the next level

Jonathan Song is pictured signing his letter of intent to Columbia College's eSports team. (Photo courtesy Columbia College)

Video games are bigger than ever.

Just ask Park High School graduate Jonathan Song, who is a sophomore on the eSports team at Columbia College in Missouri. He is a scholarship player for the varsity program, but it is not basketball or football. Song is an expert in “League of Legends,” a multiplayer online battle arena video game that takes place in the third person.

Song got his start playing “League of Legends” about six years ago when he was a freshman at Park High School. After previously playing games such as “StarCraft 2,” Song said he became hooked on “League of Legends” because of the strategy and array of options a player has.

“I always compare it to chess,” Song said. “Where do you want to put your pieces? Do you want them all on offense?”

Song got his start in video games when he was six years old. His first game of choice was a first-person shooter, “Counter-Strike,” and he quickly built enough skill to play in competitive settings.

“My dad and my uncle would take me to these huge conventions, and I would be the only little guy there,” Song said. “These guys would be 20 and 21, and I would kick their butts.”

He eventually focused on “League of Legends,” playing in local tournaments and building his national ranking. Song did not expect a scholarship in eSports until his dad suggested he look into it during his college search.

“My dad actually found it for me, thankfully,” Song said. “I was having a hard time picking colleges. College is obviously a big part of your life. So my dad said, ‘Okay, here is a list of colleges you can go to, and they give out scholarships.’”

Song was a scholarship player with the eSports team at the University of Pikeville in Kentucky his freshman year. But he made a move to Columbia College this fall to join the first-year team.

“League of Legends” is played on a map between two teams of five players. The objective of the game is to destroy an enemy building on the map called a Nexus.

Song’s role on his team is an offensive character known as ‘mid lane.’ A mid lane player often faces off one-on-one with the opposing mid lane player, and Columbia College head coach Duong Pham said that requires knowledge of the opponent and good strategy.

Song was instrumental helping get Columbia College’s eSports program off the ground. Pham said he was one of the first players to sign with the team, a tricky step for an up-and-coming program.

“At the beginning, we didn’t really have anything. No team, no roster, anything,” Pham said. “So to be one of the first ones to sign was a leap of faith. He did believe in the program; he believed in CC. That’s why he signed with us.”

Song is majoring in computer information systems while at Columbia College. However, he hopes that a career in “League of Legends” could be in his future once he graduates. It might be a long-shot, though, as college eSports gaming sometimes does not translate directly to the professional leagues.

“I’m not sure what my chances are of going pro, but that’s the goal,” Song said.