Remember when your mom told you to stop wasting so much time on those video games? Well, times have changed, Mom. Turns out you can make a living playing videogames professionally and you can probably make a lot of money doing it. Although sporting competitive gaming only recently came to the United States, the video game industry racks up billions of dollars making Esports one of the most lucrative areas to be involved in. While some may be skeptical, universities definitely recognize the success in this industry. Today, select schools supply extensive Esports facilities, varsity teams and competitions, as well as many degrees and scholarships for digital gaming. Collegiate Esports now share the spotlight with our beloved college football, and might even become more popular in the years to come.
Read on to discover the top 10 schools with superior Esports programs.
10. Arcadia University
Talk about “successful for your age”, the Arcadia Knights embody the definition of “Wunderkind”. Having only started in the fall of 2019, the Arcadia Esports program recognized the lack of female representation in Esports. They stand out among other teams with a quarter of their members being female players who can definitely hold their own. Arcadia’s varsity League of Legendsteam won their second consecutive win in Collegiate Star League this fall. Their varsity teams in Overwatch, Hearthstoneand Rocket Leaguehave also made great strides at events including Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC), TESPA Varsity Open, TESPA Varsity Invitational and other NACE competitions.
As another member of NACE, Arcadia University dedicates itself to the advancement of their players. They offer scholarships up to $25,000 to their Esports players, a feat in itself considering the difficulty of awarding scholarships to student-athletes of a D3 institution. Their newly renovated 1,500 square foot Esports facility also helps cultivate sportsmanship and gaming excellence with 46 PCs, an Xbox One, a Nintendo Switch and PS4 gaming consoles. The facility also includes a lounge area and offices for the coaches. In addition to the Esports program, Arcadia University also offers a Global Media Bachelor’s degree with a concentration in Digital Gaming Studies. In their short year of competing, Arcadia University already shows competitive prowess and unparalleled support for its players. The Arcadia Knights surely cannot be beaten.
9. University of California, Irvine
The Anteaters come in at a very close second with their uniquely academic approach to videogames and setting new standards for what collegiate gaming could be. The UCI esports program has a little bit more XP under their belt, having been established in the spring of 2016 with a massive student body interested in gaming – reportedly around 72%. Naturally, UCI filled the need to create a first-rate and inclusive collegiate Esports program and set precedence by becoming the first ever public university to do so. UCI Esports established themselves as a high-tier program winning the first ever College League of Legends (CLoL) Championships in 2018. Most recently, UCI Esports won the 2020 University of California Esports Invitational (UCEI) in both Overwatch and League of Legends. UCI also hosts the Best Coast Invitational for League of Legends since 2018 in hopes of cultivating a space for the best of collegiate Esports. In just a few short years, schools across the country knew about the young but accomplished UCI Esports team.
Students, from experienced gamers to beginners, have taken a massive interest in gaming—and it shows. Junior Super Smash Bros. UltimateB-team player, Sergio “Lt. Surge” Salas shares his experience with newfound popularity and emerging gaming culture.
“It’s so funny because I walk around with my UCI esports team sweater on campus and I would literally have random people stop me and ask about the program and the game I play, which is something I feel like never happened to me when doing regular sports in high school. We also have at the arena an area called the Community Corner where people bring all sorts of different consoles or games to play. [UCI] did a really great job bringing all sorts of gaming communities together and enticing more casual gamers to come in and see what gaming and Esports is all about,” Salas said.
UCI stands as a D1 university and awards scholarships to their players as they would their student athletes in their varsity League of Legendsand Overwatchteams and partial scholarships to their JV players. However, the school created an interestingly new scholarship just this year. Famous Twitch streamer, Imane “Pokimane” Anys, funded an annual scholarship of ~$2000 to UCI in hopes to support Esports players, gamers and STEM students. The “Pokimane Scholarship” became the first of its kind with an incredibly popular Twitch streamer and YouTube star helping further the successes of students in Esports and their academic careers. Students interested in pursuing Esports can now take full advantage of UCI’s Esports Management Specialized Studies Certificate offered through the Business Administration undergraduate and graduate degree programs.
In addition to academics, students have access to a state-of-the-art gaming facility. UCI’s 3,500 square foot arena contains 72 high-end iBuyPower PCs with peripherals by Logitech and customized Vertagear gaming chairs. The arena also includes a Broadcasting Station mostly used by their Twitch and shout casting teams where members can create content and build their Twitch and YouTube channels. Students frequently use the arena for research projects as well. As an R1 university, UCI’s Esports program prioritizes and incorporates student research in the gaming experience. Some of these projects might include data gathering, cognitive research and exploration in the benefits of the digital world of games just to name a few. Who says gaming wastes time? UCI thinks otherwise!
8. Harrisburg University
When you see Harrisburg on the competition roster, you just know HU Storm approaches. Despite being a young three-year-old-program, nothing comes close to Harrisburg’s unparalleled varsity Esports program. As the only varsity sport at Harrisburg University and a member of NACE, the college invests almost all resources to the program with varsity players receiving full-tuition, scholarships and a housing stipend. The players also have access to their highly developed gaming facilities. HU’s Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts acts as the stadium for the program’s arena, practice facility and gaming hub. The space includes a large screen (38 feet by 70 feet) with an impressive digital surround system. The arena itself contains 200 seats and room for 700 people so spectators can watch matches live. The players’ use Respawn gaming chairs and 30 wide-screened monitors by HP Omen – truly state-of-the-art technology.
The college’s investment in their teams shines through their competitive spirit and gaming excellence in the arena. Harrisburg also hosts a massive collegiate tournament annually simply named the Harrisburg University Esports Invitational (HUE), putting them on the map since its conception in the fall of 2018. HU’s Overwatch team brought home first place in the ESPN Overwatch National Championship in the spring of 2019, as well as the TESPA Collegiate Overwatch National Championship earlier this year for the second time consecutively. However, their other varsity teams in League of Legends and Hearthstone bring home victories as well, such as the UCI Esports Best Coast Invitational in League of Legends and the ASUG+GSV Summit.
The players not only succeed in the arena, but the program also prepares players who plan on turning their experience and love for the game into careers. Harrisburg University offers an Esports Management and Performance B.A. degree, providing students opportunities to work with collegiate Esports teams and professional organizations within the industry. Among other skills, they learn to evaluate Esports management, learn the business and marketing aspect of Esports and get involved in production and community engagement to prepare themselves in the quickly evolving and lucrative world of Esports. The formidable HU Storm dominates both in and out of the arena, viewing Esports as a recognized industry that stretches beyond just playing for fun.
7. Maryville University
Just under five years old, the veteran Maryville University Esports team dominates collegiate Esports with incredibly talented coaches and even more talented players. Maryville founded its Esports team in 2015 as one of the first in the country and claimed its first League of Legends Collegiate Championship trophy just a year later. Their varsity League of Legends team secured the same championship trophy again in 2017 and 2019 along with claiming 2019 and 2020 Harrisburg University Esports (HUE) Invitational titles. While this institution primarily focuses on their League of Legends team, you cannot ignore their nationally ranked varsity Overwatch team. The Saints continuously strive for greatness and do not plan to plateau anytime soon.
As one of the first six founding members of NACE, Maryville understands the needs of their players and works hard to cultivate a supportive gaming culture, dedicating its E-sports Performance Center as a training space for its varsity players. This facility includes state-of-the-art PCs, the fastest internet money can buy so players don’t experience lag, optimal peripherals and a lounge and dining area. Maryville also offers their players scholarships similarly to how students receive sports scholarships. Their most notable scholarship ended up in the hands of their student-turned-pro player, Aiden “Niles” Tidwell, who received coverage for tuition, room and board and a meal plan which amounts to roughly $40,000.
Maryville also introduced a new degree program with their Interactive Design B.F.A. with a concentration in Game Design. This program prepares its students with real competitive skill sets to thrive in new media technologies. With all this preparation and support for the Saints’ incredible success, it comes as no surprise that Maryville University would make the top 10.
6. University of Texas at Dallas
You either go big or go home and UT Dallas went all out from the moment of their E-sports program’s establishment in 2018. From the get-go, the UTD Comets established a competitive spirit and their accomplishments speak for themselves. Last year, the Comets’ varsity Super Smash Bros. Ultimateteam won the Collegiate Starleague Southern Division Conference at Shine 2019 (one of the largest “Smash” tournaments worldwide). Even so, their Overwatch and League of Legends teams achieved much success at this tournament as well. The Comet’s League of Legends team even made it to the quarterfinals. Their Overwatch teams also established themselves as the only school in the nation to have two varsity Overwatch teams to rank top 64 in the nation, with their A team reaching the “Sweet 16” in the tournament out of over 500 schools. You should note that UTD made history in just one tournament— now that’s what I call rank-worthy!
As another NACE member, this institution dedicates itself to the betterment of its players. As an official UTD athletics team, players for the E-sports program receive the same benefits other athletes would, such as priority registration, customized gear and scholarship opportunities. However, scholarships become available as players receive portions of tournament winnings. Athletes also have access to their new training facility called the Sector 7 Energy Esports Room which UTD received as a donation from their alumnus, Daniel Shen. This space includes a 24-seat arena with four 80” TVs to view matches along with cubicles for coaches. The players use custom-made gaming chairs and Alienware PCs.
Not only does this institution ensure their teams play with the best equipment, but it also prioritizes their players’ academics and preparedness for their careers. UT Dallas offers a B.A. degree in Arts, Technology and Emerging Communication (ATEC) with Gaming along with an M.F.A. program in Game Development and an M.A. program in Game Studies. In addition to degrees, the program also offers the Content Creator Program which mentors and supplements student creators’ channels and communities. These student creators learn to produce content, brand themselves and strengthen their streaming careers through private workshops and specifically tailored resources geared toward expanding streaming audiences.The one-of-a-kind UTD Cometsundoubtedly dominate in and out of the arena.
5. Miami University (Ohio)
Another colossal presence in the world of collegiate Esports, the Miami Redhawks varsity Esports team continues to live up to the Florida hype. Miami University Ohio created its varsity Esports program and became one of the first twenty members of NACE with the largest program from the only R1 university at the time. The Redhawks have many statewide tournament wins such as the Overwatch and League of Legends winnings from the National Collegiate Esports (NCE) Ohio LAN tournament in 2019. However, they also established themselves as a competitive team nationwide. From their first year, the Miami varsity League of Legends team achieved 2nd place at the inaugural League of Legends Invitational in 2016 with their Overwatchand Hearthstone teams nationally ranking top eight and top 16, respectively. They most recently participated in the Ultimate Gaming Championship (UCG) and made it in their Valorant Collegiate Final standings.
Miami University Ohio has four competitive varsity teams in League of Legends, Hearthstone, Overwatch and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO),where players and students majoring in Interactive Media Studies (AIMS) receive scholarships depending on financial need. The institution highly regards their players by making the most of their arena in addition to providing scholarships. IT services even equipped the space with high-end gaming stations. The space contains 16 stations with OXRacer gaming chairs, GTX gaming graphics cards and high-end monitors to keep up with graphic demands. The room also comes with two large televisions so the team can watch games in real time or review past games and strategize.
Miami University Ohio, arguably, has the most extensive range of gaming degrees, drawing attention to the value in gaming and emerging technologies in our modernizing society. The Armstrong Institute Interactive Media Studies (AIMS) program in the Creative Arts College offers a B.A. in Interactive Media Studies with a Digital Focus as well as a minor. The program also offers a B.S. in Games & Simulation and a minor. The program has a separate minor in Digital Innovation and a graduate certificate in Interactive Media Studies. The College of Engineering offers many specializations in Computer Science/Software Engineering including: Game and Entertainment systems, Modeling and Simulation, Digital and Embedded Systems, Interactive Media Studies and Computer Program Translation. Clearly, the Redhawks racks up experience both in-game and in the professional world.
4. Boise State University
Videogames might just be a hobby to some, but the Boise State Broncos take this “hobby” to the next level. Since 2017, BSU made waves in collegiate Esports through their award-winning League of Legends, Overwatch and Rocket League varsity teams. The Broncos have many wins and notable participation under their belt, the more recent ones including the varsity League of Legends team making it to the grand finals at the League of Legends Mountain West Conference in October 2020. The Broncos compete in NACE, the Unified Collegiate Esports Association (UCEA), North American Collegiate Esports (TESPA), College League of Legends Championships (CLoL) and the Mountain West Conference. Their supported games, including Valorant, Rainbow 6: Siege, Hearthstone, Fortnite, Apex and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare teams, have also made gains competing in various national championships.
Their sheer talent has brought much attention to their program, but their state-of-the-art arena brings even more recognition to their success. The arena includes a broadcasting section, a graphics and technical mixing area, a two-tiered stage and a large seating area for spectators. The arena brings about more visibility to this new and emerging sport allowing for players and viewers to connect. Along with the customized arena, the varsity players receive merit-based and financially-based scholarships from the program to ensure their players have equal opportunities to compete and pursue their education.
Boise State University also offers a Games, Interactive Media and Mobile B.A. degree program for those interested in developing and designing technologies in new media, including games. The Boise Esports program truly takes a more holistic and well-rounded approach to supporting their players and the future of Esports.
3. Grand Canyon University
At GCU, you never stop playing. GCU stands as a leading gaming hotspot nationwide with over 100 members in their Esports club, fostering casual gaming along with competitive gaming. GCU supports many titles with varsity teams in Overwatch, League of Legends, Rainbow 6: Siege (R6), Counter Strike: GO (CS:GO), Rocket League, Fortnite, Apex Legends and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Like most athletic sports teams, the JV and varsity teams can receive scholarships in addition to any tournament winnings. Their teams attained national fame through various competition wins and participations such as the R6 win at the Collegiate Esports Association Championship. They have also participated in the TESPA Club Spring Tournament, the Global Loot Collegiate PUBG Grand Finals and the AndBox Spring Rally, among others.
Considered a member of NACE, GCU works vigilantly at cultivating a community among pro gamers and noobs alike through their impressive gaming arena. The arena contains 36 PCs with i9 CPUs and RTX graphic cards along with several consoles including Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo platforms. GCU constantly finds themselves needing to expand as many social players gather and connect. The arena includes a tournament viewing area so students can watch tournaments live. At GCU, E-sports has become a popular social event on par with other popular sports, even football!
The institution also provides opportunities for students to turn their love of gaming into careers with GCU’s B.S. in Computer Science with an emphasis in Game and Simulation Development. Students can break into the world of game design by incorporating theory with play. Students also delve into technological innovations in gaming software and simulation developing skills and learning information in programming, gameplay, design and business in technology. Game-enthusiasts level-up their passions at GCU with its inclusive elite varsity teams, gaming facility and valuable gaming degrees.
2. Illinois Wesleyan University
You probably heard of other Wesleyan universities, but the IW Titans change the game when it comes to fostering an artistic and academically curious mindset – understandably, Esports proves no different. IWU’s Esports program started a bit late in the game, in the fall of 2018. However, they set up a successful trajectory for themselves when their League of Legends varsity team won UCI Best Coast Invitational Championship in 2019 with the 2018 championship, 2018 runner-up and 2019 runner-up positions under their belt. While their League of Legends team remains IWU’s priority team, IWU also fields teams in Rocket League, Overwatch, Super Smash Bros. and Fortnite, offering all varsity players opportunities for scholarships.
As part of the NACE (National Association of College Esports) and TESPA Leagues, IWU dedicates itself to their varsity players offering them scholarships upon admission and a newly renovated, two-story E-sports facility. The new 5,700 sq. ft. space includes 54 PCs, a six-seat competition coliseum, two practice rooms, a HyperX Broadcast room and conference rooms. However, these new rooms were not just made for show.
While the institution does not offer degrees specifically for gaming or Esports, the program offers employment and mentorship for student workers to gain hands-on experience through different roles. The program takes advantage of the HyperX Broadcast Studio to teach student employees different skill sets through coaching, graphic design, broadcasting or video production. IWU truly has its players’ best interests at heart, supporting them to the maximum and creating a competitive but safe environment for all gamers.
1. University of Utah
Naysayers don’t understand the magnitude of success the world of Esports holds, but the University of Utah has worked tenaciously at changing peoples’ minds. Even before the start of their Esports program in 2017, University of Utah became well-known for the Entertainment Arts and Engineering (EAE) Program. The program offers three undergraduate degrees in Games, a minor in Games, a minor in Computer Science, Entertainment Arts and Engineering and two master’s programs in Entertainment Arts and Engineering (MEAE). Let’s also not forget about their dual MBA and MEAE degree. Utah Esports and the EAE program exist close together where the players can practice and compete while simultaneously learning to make their sport a career.
Similar to conventional athletes, U of U Esports offers their varsity players scholarships in addition to tournament winnings. Their players also have access to a newly renovated gaming facility(as of January 2020) with over 20 iBUYPOWER computers with 144fps monitors for scrims, or competitive gaming for practice in unranked matches. When teams wanted to play competitively for tournament matches, they would cycle through what they call “the game room” which held separate computers with 240 fps monitors and GTX 1080 graphic cards.
The U’s Esports team became the first to belong to a P5 school (of the Power Five Athletic Conferences: Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten, Southeastern and Atlantic Coast). They have varsity teams in League of Legends, Overwatch, Rocket League and Hearthstone. Some of their main competitions include the Collegiate Rocket League, College League of Legends tournament, and the TESPA Collegiate Series. Most recently, the Utes brought home 1st place in two TESPA collegiate varsity championship tournaments in Overwatch and Hearthstone. Just before that, their Overwatchteam won the 2020 Blizzard Overwatch Varsity Series Championship.
The U definitely has fighting spirit, but these championship successes become more than gaining notoriety, they become valuable memories for players. Junior team captain for the League of Legends varsity team, Alec “Reyne” Tran, shares his fondest memory with the program. UCLA hosted a PAC-E League of Legends invitational where The U faced a tie for 2nd place with Washington State.
“When you’re in a close game in a comp game, it feels like you’re balancing on a tightrope. In the beginning, we were in control and it felt like it would be a stomp, but then the game started to turn. It feels like you’re losing grasp on an oily rope and if you can’t find hold, you’ll just let go. The sinking feeling when you lose is one that my team felt a bunch leading up to that point, so it created a lot of anxiety. The game wasn’t decided by something stupid like someone getting caught. It was decided by team decisions and superior team fighting. When we won, it felt like we were a better team. The entire game felt suffocating. When we won it just felt like being able to breathe again,” Tran said.
With an institution that takes Esports gaming so seriously, backed up by their academic programs and resources, successful gaming endeavors prove more than possible at the University of Utah.