One of the fastest-growing sports in the world isn’t played on grass or ice—it’s played on a computer. Short for electronic sports, esports are team-based video game competitions watched live by online spectators on Twitch. Like traditional sports, players wear team jerseys, compete in spacious arenas and communicate with teammates and coaches as the game unfolds. By 2021, the professional esports industry is expected to generate $1.65 billion in revenue and capture a global fanbase of 557 million people.
And college esports aren’t far behind. In 2014, varsity esports began when Robert Morris University launched a scholarship-sponsored League of Legends team. In 2017, the University of Utah became the first Power Five school to launch a varsity esports program. And starting fall 2018, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology became the first school to offer 16 full-ride gaming scholarships for its entire varsity roster. Today, 96 colleges and universities are members of the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), the only official governing body for varsity esports. And that list continues to grow.
US and Canadian colleges are currently fielding teams and giving esports scholarships and participation grants to gamers who play League of Legends and many other major esports titles. As programs partner with sponsors and win tournaments, they grow their funds for larger scholarships and cutting-edge arenas. Schools compete for prize money at tournaments around the year and use the winnings to award additional esports scholarships to current and future team members.
Varsity esports programs generally field teams of 14-16 players, which provides enough personnel for an “A Team” and a “B Team.” One difference unique to college esports—coaches can be current students and are sometimes included in the scholarship count.
Varsity programs award esports scholarships to gamers who excel in a wide range of popular titles. Types of games include:
The number of schools with varsity and club esports teams is growing by the day. Varsity programs award esports scholarships to academically eligible gamers who impress during open try-outs and win roster spots. At the club level, teams and individual students can earn scholarships by winning official collegiate tournaments. While gaming clubs offer no formalized recruiting process, veteran players and faculty advisors hold internal tryouts and practice sessions to determine the “A Team” roster. Currently, 96 NACE member schools offer varsity programs, while 279 colleges have Tespa chapters at the club level.
Esports scholarships are awarded on a school-by-school basis. The majority are partial and range from $500 to $8,000 per year. Several universities are beginning to offer full-tuition, and even full-ride scholarships. Many of these partial esports scholarships can be combined with merit and academic scholarships to help reduce the overall costs of tuition.
Every recruiting journey is different. But understanding what college esports coaches are looking for will help you stand out. If you have good grades and a strong work ethic, you can put yourself in a good position to receive interest from college programs.
Since esports are not affiliated with the NCAA, academic eligibility tends to be more relaxed than with traditional sports. While scholarship requirements vary from school to school, most varsity programs require gamers to maintain a GPA of 2.5 or higher. Since esports scholarships are often partial and combined with academic scholarships, good grades and test scores can help you get more assistance.