Esports is an up-and-coming industry, and in the last ten to fifteen years colleges all over the United States have started to take notice of how esports teams aren’t very different from their traditional sports teams after all. Pre-2010, many of the current esports titles like Overwatch (2016), League of Legends (2009), and others were not widely talked about as competitive esports titles within collegiate programs. Esports was mostly seen as a hobby, or something that only streamers with large platforms could benefit from. Esports “competitions” were held out of college dorms or small LAN centers on unwieldy equipment by the few and the dedicated.
But now, most of that has changed. The word “esports” has taken on a new meaning - it has now become competition all around the world for various esports titles, whether that be collegiate, professional, or even personal. Head Director and Head Coaching positions have become available at universities all across the U.S., where individuals can get paid or attend on scholarship to manage and coach teams for esports titles of their choosing.
According to the College Gazette, Robert Morris University located in Chicago, Illinois, was one of the first collegiate esports programs to offer scholarships to students. They were among the pioneering universities to offer scholarships for what many may have deemed just a leisure activity, or even a poor allotment of university funding. But looking back, RMU and other universities like University of Texas at Dallas or University of California at Irvine started bringing esports to the forefront of gaming, and legitimized esports players competing on collegiate teams as more than just a hobby.
Now, collegiate esports scholarships are offered in almost every state in the nation, and esports players get to do what they truly love while giving back to their university. As of right now, over 200 universities have esports programs that students can get involved with. Scholarships can range up to $25,000 like Arcadia University, or $14,000 at Valparaiso University, and some universities are just now getting into the esports scene.
How can high school students get involved? Recently, most high school programs have started esports programs for various competitive titles like League of Legends, Valorant, Super Smash Bros Ultimate, and many more. Getting involved early gives students the most time to learn the game, hone their skills, and climb the ladder to determine where their skill level lies. Entering title-specific leagues and tournaments is also recommended, to play against players with the same goal in mind: to be the absolute best. Likewise, playing a game solo is not equivalent to playing on a team, so joining a local or online team is suggested to teach students teamwork, leadership, and communication skills that are necessary in all aspects of life.
Not only are in-game skills important, but maintaining a good GPA and giving back to the community is also looked highly upon, and gives students an edge for either collegiate or professional recruiting. Recruiters generally look for well-rounded students that can act as role models for other collegiate esports players as well as the community as a whole, and students that want to establish themselves can look into volunteering for a local nonprofit or donating their time in other meaningful ways.
The good news is, esports is exploding into high school and college campuses across the U.S., and the movement to legitimize esports is just getting started. College campuses have esports clubs, coaches, and even esports arenas to foster competition and improvement for their respective teams just like traditional sports. Esports is only growing from here, and it has the potential to rock the entertainment industry like nothing has before in our lifetime. It unlocks a new type of competition that is inclusive to all, and reshapes the way that many think about the future of collegiate sports and entertainment as a whole.