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A guide to esports scholarships and college programs

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Popular advice encourages finding a career that you love, inspiring many people to look for ways to turn a hobby or interest into a profession. Fortunately for avid gamers, online gaming has created big changes in the world and there are now scholarships and college programs designed to fine-tune your skills and help make a career out of video gaming.

Verizon works closely with industry leaders to discover ways for 5G to transform gaming while sponsoring an esports team and even launching the Verizon 5G Gaming Center, a 5,500-square-foot training facility located at Verizon’s 5G Lab in L.A.

What are esports?

Esports — “electronic sports” — refers to the world of organized, competitive video gaming. Unlike traditional sports, esports are virtual events. Though relatively young compared to other popular sports, the esports industry may be a viable career option for avid gamers, and is gaining participation at the collegiate level as schools seek to recruit student-athletes and join new competitions. Individual competitors or teams, compete against one another in popular esports video games to earn winnings — some examples of top esports games include:

  • Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS: GO)
  • Defense of the Ancients (DOTA)
  • League of Legends (LoL)
  • Fortnite
  • Call of Duty (COD)
  • Rainbow Six Siege
  • Overwatch
  • Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG)
  • Hearthstone
  • Rocket League

Who watches esports?

The esports market is booming with a worldwide audience of 223 million frequent viewers and 272 million occasional viewers in 2020. By 2023, those numbers are expected to increase to almost 300 million frequent viewers and 351 million occasional viewers. A recent survey shows that 72% of the esports audience is made up of males. The survey goes on to show that the mean age of esports viewers is 32 — with 80% of viewers under the age of 44 and 38% under the age of 24. 

There are two primary ways to watch esports: attending competitions in-person or streaming.

Streaming platforms have contributed greatly to the growth of esports. These platforms make it possible to live-stream events and personal gameplay. There are numerous platforms to watch on, but Twitch makes up 91.1% of the market share for streaming. Some of the most common streaming platform examples include:

Where are esports competitions held?

There are several areas where esports competitions are held around the world. The more popular events are held in large arenas, hotels, or convention centers. College esports are generally held at the school campus that is hosting the competition. Esports competitions can also be held virtually. You can find upcoming esports competitions and tournaments online.

The cost of esports

The cost of participating in esports depends on the different devices and equipment used for gaming. Different gamers prefer different consoles and equipment. Given the wide range of games and playing styles, it is difficult to put a firm cost on participation. Some of the most common costs include:

  • Gaming console: PC, Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo, mobile phones
  • Streaming equipment: Camera, camera stand, microphone, audio interface, acoustic treatment/soundproofing
  • Additional costs: video games, desk/table, gaming chair, high speed internet, gaming mouse, gaming keyboard, gaming headphones, competition entry fees, mobile gaming accessories, travel, and lodging.

Collegiate varsity esports programs and scholarships

Colleges are offering varsity esports programs and scholarships for qualified gamers. The National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) is the regulatory body for varsity esports programs. NACE works alongside Next College Student Athlete (NCSA) to provide the following information surrounding varsity esports programs, scholarships, and the recruitment process.  

What games can you get recruited to play?

Most digital games that are played competitively for money are considered esports games. There are numerous games that you can get recruited to play. Varsity program games generally include:

  • Multiplayer Online Battle Arena: LoL, DOTA,  
  • Real-Time Strategy: StarCraft, World of Warcraft (WoW);
  • First-Person Shooter: CS: GO, PUBG, Fortnite, Overwatch;
  • Fighting: Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Super Smash Brothers;
  • Sports: FIFA, Madden, NBA 2K, Rocket League;
  • Collectible card games: Hearthstone.

How to get recruited in esports

Since the esports industry is becoming more and more competitive, there are certain actions that gamers should take to improve their chances of getting recruited — these include:

  • Stream: Coaches and recruiters want insight into how you play, not just how you are ranked nationally. Stream or record everything so that you can highlight your accomplishments;
  • Compete: Even if you aren’t competing for money, it is important to take advantage of competition opportunities. This experience can help indicate to coaches that you understand how competitions function and if you win or place it can be even more beneficial. Aside from boosting your resume, playing against other gamers can help you learn new skills and improve performance;
  • Create a recruiting profile: You will want to create an online recruiting profile to help connect you with different coaches and recruiters by highlighting your skills. Your recruiting profile is similar to a LinkedIn or job board profile. You can create a free NCSA esports profile online; 
  • Contact coaches: Coaches do not always find you, so it may be up to you to reach out to coaches and get attention as a prospective recruit. There are numerous ways for gamers to contact coaches including emails, phone calls, and letters. Reaching out may not get you a spot on the team, but it may help get you a tryout or learn what you need to do to improve your chances;
  • Work hard in school: Good grades are not the only factor for getting recruited at the college, but some coaches will likely also want to see that athletes are well-rounded and that they are both an athlete and a student.

What to expect in esports tryouts

College esports coaches and recruiters host tryouts to get additional insight into prospective athletes. Your national rank or a highlight video may not be indicative of your practical skills and value to a team, so these in-person tryouts help coaches determine qualified team members and scholarship recipients. If a coach has an interest in a recruit, they may reach out and invite them to attend a tryout (generally on campus). According to the NCSA esports scholarship guide, coaches traditionally grade recruits on the following criteria:

  • In-game communication: You want to display both accurate and useful communication while gaming. It’s important to have the ability to communicate clearly and effectively to work with teammates efficiently;
  • Teamplay: Varsity esports teams need to be able to work together. This includes making plans and sticking to them. Work to prove that you can be responsible for your specific role in team competitions;
  • Attitude: Your attitude is a reflection of what it will be like to work with you. You want to be teachable, positive, and have the ability to take ownership of any mistakes you make.

Creating an esports highlight reel

If you want to create an esports highlight reel to share with coaches and recruiters, consider the following tips:

  • Purchase good equipment: You want to avoid poor visual and audio quality with your reel. Invest in a good camera or broadcasting software, camera stand, microphone, interface, and soundproofing/acoustic treatment.
  • Place clips in order of importance: You want to impress coaches and recruiters immediately so be sure to showcase your best plays or accomplishments right off the bat.
  • Create variety: You want to show that you are a well-rounded player, so be sure to demonstrate your abilities in a number of different situations, not just highlight one area of game strength;
  • Avoid too much: Avoid making your highlight videos too long. Aim to make them an average of one to two minutes long. This still gives you plenty of time to highlight your best play.
  • Include important information in the video: You want to be sure that coaches and recruiters viewing your reel do not have to search to find your contact information (name, number, email, gamer tag). Be sure to include this in the actual video or in the video description. It may be useful to include additional information in the description like the games you play, your rankings, links to your recruitment profile or streaming channels, etc.
  • Revise and rework: As time goes on and you get better, update your reel. Coaches and recruiters don’t want to see clips from years ago, they want to see recent gameplay. Continue to build an arsenal of clips to choose from and rework your reel accordingly.
  • Increase exposure: Post your reel to YouTube, Twitch, social media, and especially your recruiting profile.

Academic requirements

Esports are not affiliated with NCAA, so the academic requirements for an esports athlete are different from traditional student-athlete academic requirements. Be Recruited provides the following varsity esports academic requirements:

  • Any entering freshman must be a graduate from an accredited high school, or have attained a GED;
  • Any entering freshman must meet at least two of the following three criteria;
  • A minimum ACT score of 18, a score of 18 on the Enhanced ACT for GED students, or a score of 860 on the SAT;
  • An overall high school GPA of a 2.0 on a 4.0 scale (a GED fulfills this requirement);
  • An incoming freshman must have graduated in the upper half of their high school class, with proof of class rank on an official transcript or via an official letter from the principal of the high school;
  • The student must enroll in a minimum of 12 college credit hours;
  • The student must make normal progress towards a bachelor’s degree and maintain the minimum GPA of the school.

Colleges may have limits to how many sports scholarships they can offer, but if you do well academically, you might be able to get an academic scholarship in addition to (or in place of) an esports scholarship. Just because you are not on scholarship does not necessarily always mean that you can’t be part of a varsity esports program.

College esports scholarships

There are over 204 academic institutions listed on the NACE online school directory and many of them offer esports scholarships. While there are over 200 schools with varsity esports programs to participate in, not all of them offer esports scholarships. 

Sometimes these scholarships are offered by companies in order to help students attend various universities. For example, Verizon announced that they would be offering the Game Forward scholarship, which will award five teams of five female students pursuing technology degrees to Delaware State University, Dillard University, Howard University, Morgan State University, and Texas Southern University. These recipients are also guaranteed internships at top gaming and tech companies.

There are also schools that will offer scholarships to entice talented gamers to visit the campus and tryout for the varsity esports team. The exact amount of scholarship offered depends on the institution's funding, the size of the team, and the skill of the scholarship recipient. Scholarship requirements vary between schools, but prospects must be able to meet general admission requirements. Below is a list of some of the academic institutions that offer esports scholarships.

Alma College

Alma College is a private liberal arts college located in Alma, Michigan that recently launched a varsity esports program that offers scholarships to prospective CS: GO, Hearthstone, LoL, Overwatch, and Rocket league players.  

Scholarship amount: $1,500 per year

Division: III

Admission information


Barton College

Barton College is a private liberal arts college located in Wilson, North Carolina. Barton College offers scholarships within their esports program to LoL, Fortnite, Madden, NBA 2K, and Super Smash Bros players. 

Scholarship amount: $2,000 per year

Division: II

Admission information


Boise State University

Boise State University is a public university located in Boise, Idaho. Boise State’s esports program offers scholarships to prospective LoL, Overwatch, Rocket League players. They offer specific requirements for receiving scholarship — potential recipients must:

  • Be a full-time student (12 or more credits)
  • Currently have and possess a 3.0 GPA
  • Currently be in and maintain good standing with the game publisher

Scholarship amount: Not listed

Division: I

Admission information


East Coast Polytechnic Institute University

East Coast Polytechnic Institute (ECPI) University is a private school located in Virginia Beach, Virginia. ECPI offers one of the larger scholarship awards amounts for their esports program, but note that they are still in their accreditation period. They offer scholarships to LoL, Overwatch, Hearthstone, and CS: GO players. 

Scholarship amount: $5,000 per year

Division: N/A

Admission information


Illinois College

Illinois College is a private liberal arts college located in Jacksonville, Illinois. The Illinois College esports program offers the largest scholarship award amount out of the schools listed within this section. Their scholarships are aimed at Overwatch, Hearthstone, Madden, FIFA, Fortnite, CS: GO, Super Smash Bros, and Rocket League players.

Scholarship amount: $15,000 to $20,000

Division: III

Admission information


Juniata College

Juniata College is a private liberal arts college located in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. The Juniata esports program extends scholarship offers to LoL, CS: GO, Rocket League, and Super Smash Bros players.  

Scholarship amount: 2,500 per year

Division: III

Admission information


Lebanon Valley College

Lebanon Valley College is a private liberal arts college located in Annville, Pennsylvania. The Lebanon Valley College varsity esports program for LoL, Overwatch, Hearthstone, CS: GO, Rocket League, Super Smash Bros, and COD gamers. 

Scholarship amount: $2,500 per year up to $10,000 total

Division: III

Admission information


Mount St. Joseph University

Mount St. Joseph University is a private catholic school located in Mount Saint Joseph, Ohio. The Mount St. Joseph esports program offers scholarships to LoL players only — although their site explains how they are in the process of expanding their esports teams.

Scholarship amount: $2,000 per year

Division: III

Admission information


Ohio Northern University

Ohio Northern University is a private methodist school located in Ada, Ohio. The Ohio Northern esports program offers scholarships to Apex Legends, CS:GO, Fortnite, Hearthstone, LoL, Overwatch, PUBG, Rainbow Six Siege, Rocket League, Teamflight Tactics, and Valorant players.

Scholarship amount: $2,000 per year

Division: III

Admission information


University of California-Irvine

The University of California-Irvine is a public land-grant university located in Irvine, California. The University of California-Irvine esports program offers scholarships to LoL, Overwatch, and Super Smash Bros players. 

Scholarship amount: $1,000 to $6,000 per year

Division: I

Admission information

Additional esports career resources and considerations

There are important resources and considerations to be aware of if you are trying to make a career out of esports. Gamers should constantly look for tips to improve their game, different esports career pathways, and different trends changing the industry. Below is a list of valuable resources and various considerations for those looking to make a career out of gaming.

  • One of the ways to help develop skills in the gaming world is to start early. There are high school esports leagues available to get involved in competitions at a young age;
  • Streaming can  be a great way to make money on the side and there are numerous live streaming tools and resources available online —  visual tools, audio tools, monetization tools, analytics tools, and live add-ons/plug-ins;
  • Competing in tournaments may be a great way to get your name out there. There are different tournament sites like Toornament, Battlefy, and UMG Gaming that offer open tournaments on their site for all types of gamers to compete in;
  • Like most things, there are health risks associated with esports — both physical and mental. Some find video games to be beneficial for their mental health, but it is still important to monitor your mental health, and take advantage of the numerous mental health resources when necessary. Sports Medicine Reports provides a gamer’s health guide that helps gamers identify hazards and take action accordingly;
  • Another way for gamers to get funding is to get sponsors. Use these online tips for finding sponsors;
  • Playing for a top-tier esports team or making money from streaming may not always work for everyone, but these are not your only options for an esports career. Be sure to research the different esports career pathways that an avid gamer can take;
  • Creating your gaming or streaming setup can be an expensive venture. There are numerous stores and sites that offer used games, consoles, and accessories.