If you grew up playing video games, you might have had your parents tell you to focus on school instead. Over the past few years, however, video games and colleges have become more closely linked. A number of schools have even created varsity esports programs.
In 2016, the National Association of Collegiate Esports was formed, signaling a massive step forward for collegiate gaming. Since then, varsity esports have cropped up at more and more schools and the industry has continued to blossom.
More than 100 colleges and universities now offer varsity esports and some level of scholarships for elite gamers. Most students earn a few thousand dollars in scholarship money, but some schools offer up to half price tuition for elite gamers. Some major universities have prominent programs, and here are a few of the biggest today:
1. Boise State University
Although it’s best known for its football program and blue field, Boise State is one of a handful of Division I athletic schools with a varsity esports team. BSU launched its esports program in 2017 and has quickly become one of the top schools in the nation.
Value Gamers ranked the Broncos as the 10th best program in the nation, and their Rocket League team captured the Mountain West Conference title earlier this year. In January, Boise State unveiled a new esports arena as well, proving its commitment to the future of the program.
2. Georgia State University
Georgia State rolled out its esports teams in 2018, featuring players in League of Legends, Smite, and Brawlhalla. The university also broadcasts its varsity matches on Twitch, giving students and fans a way to engage with the program.
Interestingly, GSU’s program extends beyond competitive gaming and helps give students the tools to break into the gaming industry in other roles. Even many collegiate gamers aren’t skilled enough to go pro after school, so Georgia State offers programs to help students learn to broadcast, plan tournaments, and coordinate social media.
3. Miami University (Ohio)
Miami announced its esports program in March of 2016, making it one of the first high profile schools to unveil an esports team. In addition to a varsity team, Miami offers a comprehensive esports class as part of its curriculum, as well as a digital gaming minor.
Miami has already found considerable success. Its Overwatch team won the 2017 NACE Championship and its League of Legends team reached the finals that year. In 2017, the university also opened an esports arena in the campus library, featuring state-of-the-art gaming PCs for players.
4. Robert Morris University
Since 2014 Robert Morris University has offered scholarships to prospective students with League of Legends talent. It was the first school to offer esports scholarships and remains a prominent program in the field.
RMU’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team finished third in the Collegiate Starleague’s 2019 Spring Finals this year, while their junior varsity League team won the Starleague championship.
5. University of California-Irvine
UC Irvine made headlines in the fall of 2016 when the school rolled out its esports program, including the nation’s first collegiate esports arena.
The school has also made strides to expand diversity in its esports program, as the gaming industry has been mostly male dominated for a long time. Irvine hosted a panel discussion on women in gaming after launching its program, and it has been sure to include women in leadership and advising roles within the esports program.
6. University of Akron
Akron features varsity teams in five games: League of Legends, CS:GO, Overwatch, Hearthstone and Rocket League. The last game in particular is where the school shines. The varsity Rocket League team won the spring national championship in April.
Akron’s esports program actively recruits gamers and is looking to expand to Fortnite, Super Smash Bros., and Rainbow Six Siege in the near future. Akron’s campus also features a state-of-the-art esports arena, that opened in 2018.
7. University of Utah
In 2017, Utah became the first school in a Power Five football conference to create a varsity esports team, and their announcement video helped set the standard for other emerging programs.
The team emerged from Utah’s Entertainment Arts and Engineering program that focuses on video game development and cultivated a group of students with a passion for gaming.
“We’re getting kids that never identify with their school via mainstream sports to identify with their school in ways they didn’t before,” said A.J. Dimick, the university’s esports Director of Operations.