If you want to compete against the best in college, you’ll need a cool head, lightning-fast reflexes and the ability to consistently propel a giant soccer ball into a goal using a rocket-powered car.
Master those skills, and you just might be good enough to play the videogame Rocket League on a college esports scholarship.
That was the case for Hamp Lackey, an Eagle Scout from Troop 911 of Mount Juliet, Tenn., part of the Middle Tennessee Council.
Last month, Hamp committed to attend Cumberland University on an esports scholarship. Yes, he’s getting part of his college tuition covered because he’s really good at videogames.
“We were shocked to find out about this,” says Hamp’s dad, Vance (who happens to serve as deputy Scout Executive for the Middle Tennessee Council). “But we were excited for the opportunity to have our son attend college on a scholarship. As parents, we can only provide them the opportunity to excel. It is on them to make the most of the opportunities.”
More than a hobby
As a Cumberland student-athlete, Hamp will don the maroon and white this fall as he plays Rocket League against other colleges and universities from across the country.
The game is a mashup of soccer and racing that’s currently played by tens of millions of players around the world. Like soccer in real life, Rocket League’s rules are pretty simple: Two teams of up to four players each play soccer. Instead of running around, each player uses a rocket-powered car to attempt to propel the ball into the goal.
Learning the rules is easy. Mastering the game? That’s the tricky part. There’s quite a steep climb from playing a casual game of Rocket League with friends to being good enough to catch the eye of a college esports coach.
Hamp started playing Rocket League about two years ago, using it as a way to connect with others during the pandemic. After realizing he was quite good at the game, he tried out for some Minor League Esports teams and was asked to join a team called the Rhinos. Next, Hamp asked Jason Lawrence, a teacher at his high school, if he could start a Rocket League team there.
This newly built team at Mount Juliet High School, called MJHS Golden Bear, became one of the best in the country — ranking as high as third in the nation. The team even qualified for the 2022 Walt Disney World EGF National High School Championship this summer.
Last fall, Hamp’s coach reached out to the esports coach at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tenn. That coach, Spencer Claypool, came to visit Mount Juliet to watch Hamp play.
“From the very first day Coach Claypool watched me play, he said he wanted me to play for his team in college,” Hamp says. “It’s funny how this recruiting process is exactly what other sports — football, basketball, soccer, etc. — go through.”
After a few more contacts, a couple of virtual campus visits and an in-person visit to campus, Hamp made the commitment to pursue his passion to play Rocket League in college.
“The least expected is the best surprise,” Vance says.
A healthy balance
Even as he found success in the esports arena, Hamp maintained a healthy balance during high school. He got good grades, attended Scout meetings and events, played basketball and soccer, and, yes, played plenty of videogames.
Rather than seeing all of those interests as separate activities competing for his time, Hamp embraced their intersectionality.
“Scouting has helped me realize that whatever I put my mind to, I can accomplish,” he says. “Whether that’s achieving Eagle Scout or getting a gaming scholarship.”
Hamp has loved playing videogames ever since he tried Mario Kart on his Nintendo DS handheld game system. After he got good at sliding around turns and aiming green turtle shells at other racers, he moved to Mario Kart on the Nintendo Wii. Hamp says he and his dad spent hours racing against each other.
“We had lots of fun playing together,” Hamp says.
In 2018, Hamp got his first gaming computer. He had been used to playing games on his Microsoft Xbox console, but when he started playing those same games with the mouse and keyboard on his computer, “I became exponentially better,” he says.
Buying a young golfer a better set of clubs won’t instantly improve their score, but it can help them grow. The same was true for Hamp’s gaming skills.
“The right equipment helped me become a better player,” Hamp says. “This is the same for all sports, but gaming is not something all parents currently understand.”
Throughout his gaming journey, Hamp has done his part to buck the stereotype of a gamer. He didn’t spend entire weekends huddled in his room glued to a computer screen. He didn’t chip away at other interests to make more time for gaming. He didn’t neglect his friends.
He kept a healthy balance.
But his parents’ support helped, too.
“They never limited my gaming time, as long as I did what I needed to do for school and work. Even though I play videogames, I eat dinner with my family every night,” Hamp says. “People have a stereotype for gamers — they think just because you play a lot of videogames you are always in your room. But I still continue to hang out with my friends, play recreational basketball, and work.”
He continued to enjoy his Scouting journey, too. Hamp attended the 2017 National Scout Jamboree, went to four different Scout summer camps and — yep — earned the Game Design merit badge. For his Eagle Scout service project, he built seven benches, five picnic tables and a rope fence at a park in Mount Juliet.
All of these Scouting experiences, Hamp said, made him a better gamer.
“Something that Scouting has helped me with continuously is problem solving,” he says. “New challenges always arise, whether that’s in Scouting or gaming. Being able to overcome them with the support of your peers and more knowledgeable individuals is crucial to success.”
In Scouting, Hamp absorbed lessons from older Scouts as he earned merit badges and “ranked up.” In gaming, he is still learning new skills from more experienced players.
“The biggest misconception is that being an esports athlete isn’t as demanding as being a regular athlete,” Hamp says. “Most people think we just sit down and start playing. We actually spend time practicing and perfecting moves and skills just like traditional athletes.”
They earn scholarships, too.
The world of collegiate esports continues to expand. The National Association of Collegiate Esports counts among its member institutions more than 170 different schools that offer varsity esports — totaling more than 5,000 student-athletes nationwide.
Many of these schools offer scholarships ranging from $500 to $8,000 a year. Some have even started giving full rides to their best esports prospects.
“Esports is becoming a growing scholarship opportunity,” Hamp says. “It’s like everything you do; the more time and attention you give it, the more success you will receive. At the same time, it is just as important to have a social life away from the computer.”