Ball State University and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLL) have selected the first two recipients of a first-of-its-kind scholarship program for esports student-athletes. 

The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Scholarship provides $5,000 annually to two members of Ball State’s varsity esports team each year from the 2022-23 through 2025-26 academic years. The scholarship program, which advances the University’s mission of recruiting and retaining the top esports talent in the world, is a key aspect of the recently formed partnership between Ball State and RLL, which is co-owned by television legend David Letterman, a 1969 Ball State graduate, 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal and businessman Mike Lanigan. 

The first recipients of the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Scholarship are: 

  • Ar Muhammad Aleef, a 23-year-old pro-level esports driver from Singapore. Mr. Aleef earned his diploma in Mechatronics, with a specialty in Robotics, from Temasek Polytechnic Singapore. At Ball State, he plans on majoring in Business Analytics. 
  • Rhett Crain, 18, from Noblesville, Ind. Mr. Crain, who specializes in the games iRacing and F1 2021, plans on majoring in Computer Science at Ball State. 

In addition to being the first recipients of this scholarship, these esports student-athletes will drive a Ball State/RLL-branded car in the upcoming INDYCAR video game upon its release in 2023. 

“When considering the applicants for the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Scholarship, what made both Ar Muhammad Aleef and Rhett Crain stand out was their passion and experience in both sim racing and live racing,” said Dan Marino, director of Ball State’s esports program and head coach of the University’s varsity esports team. “After getting to know both students better, it was clear that they didn’t just see the RLL scholarship as a pathway for competition, but to be a part of something larger within our esports program and through opportunities with RLL.” 

The partnership between Ball State and RLL—established in February—has provided other special opportunities for students engaged in Ball State’s esports program. This month, for example, several Ball State Esports students took advantage of an exclusive opportunity to visit with and observe members of the RLL racing team in action at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as they prepared for the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500. 

“We share in Ball State’s excitement and pride in welcoming the first two recipients of the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Scholarship,” said Tom Knox, senior vice president of sales and marketing for RLL. “When we announced the formation of RLL Esport in 2021, we knew the esports industry would be an exciting new way for us to stay engaged to our partners, our fans, and the entire racing community. Since that time, in partnering with Ball State and its esports program, we continue to find new and innovative ways to tap into the young, bright minds of the future, while also giving back to our community, our state, and our sport.” 

Innovation in Esports
Ball State’s unique partnership with RLL Racing—joining traditional racing with simulated racing—puts the University at the forefront of the collegiate esports industry. 

Additionally, these high-profile educational-corporate partnerships can be valuable to the economic vitality of Indiana, according to Rollie Helmling, a motorsports advisor at the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC). 

“As Indiana continues to grow, it expands educational opportunities and partnerships that allow for great advancements in racing and esports,” Mr. Helmling said. “A racing team like Rahal Letterman Lanigan teaming up with Ball State University is a prime example of how our state is working diligently to attract and retain innovative talent, and illustrates that Hoosier partnerships are leading the way with evolutionary thinking.” 

For Dr. Paaige Turner, dean of Ball State’s College of Communication, Information, and Media (CCIM), which houses the University’s esports program, having one of the few varsity esports sim racing programs in the country, backed by a unique partnership with a professional racing team, allows the college to attract top talent not only in gaming, but in other areas such as media, film, entertainment production, news and more. 

“Sim racing as a genre in esports is gaining a tremendous amount of popularity each year, and we see it as an incredible opportunity for our University to be on the cutting edge of the collegiate esports industry,” Dean Turner said. “Adding the layer of the Rahal Letterman Lanigan partnership on top of this, students with a passion for racing can have the curtain pulled back to see how an incredible organization like RLL works behind the scenes, while also making connections and gaining experience to propel them into fulfilling careers and meaningful lives.” 

Ball State began its varsity esports program in January 2021, becoming a founding member of the Esports Collegiate Conference. The University’s Esports Production concentration, under CCIM’s Department of Media, delivers hands-on instruction for students to develop their skills in the field of esports media. Students in the program learn the history of esports, video production, streaming, and live event broadcasting. 

Ball State has more than 800 students who participate in its student-run Esports Club, including more than 50 student-athletes on its varsity esports team. For more information about Ball State’s esports program, email or call 765-285-6025.