Ready, Set, Esports

Worried that your kids have been playing too many video games during this coronavirus pandemic? You may want to encourage them to play even more. They might be skilled enough to earn an esports college scholarship. 

esports scholarships
(Source dife88 from Pixabay – free for commercial use).

What’s an esports scholarship? 

Colleges are now offering scholarships for video gaming. Yes, you heard it right. Around 200 colleges give out more than $16 million in scholarships for students to play on their gaming teams. 

Esports, short for electronic sports, encompasses competitive video-game playing. Fortnite, Overwatch, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Hearthstone, and League of Legends are a few of the most popular games. Video games have been around since physicist William Higinbotham designed the precursor to Pong in 1959. However, it’s only a recent phenomenon that kids can go to college with the help of esports scholarships. Students get a chance to play in purpose-built, state-of-the-art arenas in colleges from California to Florida. 

A Little History

Never heard of an esports scholarship? It’s not surprising since the first scholarship was awarded only a few years ago. In 2014, Robert Morris University Illinois in Chicago was the first American university to offer League of Legends scholarships. (Robert Morris University Illinois is now part of Roosevelt University.) In 2016, the National Association of Collegiate Esports, or NACE was formed at the Collegiate Esports Summit in Kansas City, Missouri, with seven universities hosting varsity esports teams. Today, teenagers can earn esports scholarships, worth anywhere from $500 to full tuition. The average tuition award is around $4,800 per year. 

It’s not just colleges that will sponsor scholarships, but game developers are getting involved as well. Riot Games, makers of League of Legends, provide up to $10,000 per player. Their scholarship arm, the Riot Scholastic Association of America runs the College League of Legends, which involved 354 schools and gave out $4.5 million in 2019.

Explosive Popularity

Before 2020, the industry was growing steadily and has just exploded since the pandemic when live sports action has been on hiatus. Watching esports used to be primarily an online pastime but ESPN, Disney XD, CW, TBS, CBS, and The NFL Network have all broadcast eports tournaments. The ESPN website includes a whole section on esports, holding as prevalent a spot as football and baseball. According to a McKinsey report, global revenue from esports will hit $1.1 billion in 2020 with most of the revenue coming from sponsorships. The audience size is estimated to be 500 million viewers, growing more than 10% each year. To compare, the entire 2019 NFL football season attracted only about 180 million total viewers. 

How do you get an esports scholarship? 

Basically, students can reach out to the colleges to express interest and/or they can enter major tournaments, which are watched by college coaches. If the coach is impressed by the player’s skills, Twitch stream and video-on-demand feed, they may invite the player to try out on campus in a team environment. Discussions about scholarships develop from the relationship between the coach and the player. Most kids will still go through the college application process like any other student, except their application may be singled out based on the coach’s recommendation.  

There are over 200 colleges to consider but here are a few notable esports universities:

  • Arcadia University (Glenside, Pennsylvania) – Arcadia University located outside Philadelphia, offers one of the most generous esports scholarship of $25,000 per student. They have teams for League of Legends, Hearthstone, Overwatch and Rocket League. The campus renovated a 1,500-square-foot arena. For more information about the scholarship, contact Arcadia’s Director of Athletics, Brian Granata at [email protected] or 215-572-2194. 
  • New York University (New York City, New York) – New York University offers a scholarship to study game design at the NYU Game Center, which falls under NYU’s renowned Tisch School of the Arts program. The scholarship is open to undergraduates and graduate-level applicants, who are “passionate about fighting games and esports.” This NYU Game Center Evo Scholarship is funded by subscriptions to the Evo tournament live stream. Scholarship amounts vary from partial to full tuition from year to year. In 2016, the Evo scholarship covered full tuition at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts’ Game Center, thanks to the generous $60,000 donation of legendary Street Fighter gamer Daigo Umehara who gave all his winnings to the scholarship fund. 
  • Roosevelt University (Chicago, Illinois) – Roosevelt University recently absorbed Robert Morris University Illinois’ gaming department after the college ceased operations. Fortunately for gamers, the esports scholarships live on. More information can be found here and potential esport athletes should reach out to Michael Wisnios at [email protected]
  • University of California – Irvine (Irvine, California) – The University of California – Irvine campus is located in Orange County, outside Los Angeles. Their esports program got its start in 2016 and gamers get to play in a 3,500-square-foot arena. Scholarships range from $1,000 to $6,000, depending on varsity or junior varsity level. More information about esports recruitment at UCI or email [email protected]

If you have more questions, contact NextStudent for a financial aid consultation.

Helen Hwang
Helen I. Hwang is a freelance journalist, author and mechanical engineer. Her works have appeared in People Magazine, Huffington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia City Paper, [email protected] (Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania's online business journal), Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel Magazine, TravelSavvy.com, Jade Magazine, Hyphen Magazine, Next American City Magazine, and other publications.
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