TOP TEN ESPORTS COLLEGE PROGRAMS
As esports continue to grow in scale and popularity, colleges are creating programs both intramural and varsity to allow students to competitively compete in top tournaments. While many programs are in their infancy, several have already established themselves as a premiere destination for those hoping to go from amateur to professional.
Below are the top ten universities with college esports programs based on team talent, scholarship opportunities and student support.
10. University of Toronto
University of Toronto esports is a hub for all gaming communities and esports teams at the university. Teams include League of Legends, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Melee, Overwatch and Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO). The UTSC Athletics and Recreation Department sponsors several esports leagues, including FIFA, NBA2K and NHL. The group primarily competes in local tournaments, such as the Ontario Esports League, Collegiate Star League and applicable online tournaments.
9. George Mason University
GMU Esports became an official student organization in the fall 2020 semester after a decade as a school club. It has competitive teams for League of Legends, Overwatch, Rocket League and Super Smash Bros. The program’s mission is to connect its students with others and form a competitive community around esports, aiming to build student teams and foster player skill to compete in esports competitions at the collegiate level.
8. Winthrop University
Winthrop University launched its varsity esports program in the fall of 2019, and since then has established itself as a premiere destination for students hoping to pursue a career in gaming. It has varsity teams for League of Legends and Rocket League, and just won its first national title in the 2021 Rocket League championship on May 2.
7. Harrisburg University
Interestingly, the esports program at Harrisburg is the university’s first and only varsity sport. Dubbed the Harrisburg University Storm, the program has teams for League of Legends, Overwatch and Hearthstone. Students who make the varsity team receive full academic scholarships with a housing stipend and can compete for prize pools up to $50,000.
6. Robert Morris University
The RMU esports programs is one of the most prolific in the country with teams competing in most major gaming titles, including League of Legends, Rocket League, Hearthstone, Madden, Overwatch, Call of Duty, CS:GO, Rainbow Six Siege, Super Smash Bros. and Valorant. The school was one of the first in the country to launch a varsity esports program, and offers its players up to 50 percent of tuition nad 50 percent room and board each year in scholarship opportunities.
5. Boise State University
Boise state hosts competitive esports as a sanctioned varsity activity for undergraduate and graduate students. The Boise program participates in intercollegiate play with the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) with teams competing in League of Legends, Overwatch, Rocket League and Valorant. It also hosts EsportsU, a free two-week stay-at-home summer camp for high school gamers. EsportsU introduces attendees to various careers within the gaming industry and helps the students set an academic course that will help them achieve professional goals within the space.
4. Maryville University
The MU esports program has two divisions: Varsity and Community Club. The varsity program builds top collegiate talent from around the world, including three-time National Champion League of Legends team and a top four nationally-ranked Overwatch team. In April, the Overwatch team won the Overwatch Collegiate Championship. Players must try out to earn a spot on varsity. The Community Club is for students who want a competitive yet friendly gaming environment, with teams in CS:GO, Hearthstone, Rainbow Six Siege and Rocket League. While students must try out to be on a specific team, the Community Club hosts events throughout the year for any student to partake in. Maryville also offers academic scholarships up to $2,000.
3. Michigan State University
Michigan State has a robust esports program for its students, with a host of casual and competitive teams. Competitive teams play CS:GO, Fortnite, League of Legends, Rainbow Six: Siege, Real Time Strategy, Rocket League, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Valorant. While all competitive teams have casual counterparts, games with only casual opportunities include digital collectable card games, fighting games, Halo, Magic the Gathering, Pokemon and rhythm games. MSU also offers broadcasting and leadership opportunities, giving students who aren’t players experience needed to get a career in esports outside the competitive arena.
2. Miami University
The Ohio-based esports program is the first national D1 varsity team founded in 2015. It has varsity teams in CS:GO, Hearthstone, League of Legends, Overwatch, Rainbow Six Siege and Rocket League, and junior varsity teams for Call of Duty and Valorant. All teams have a series of accolades, making it an attractive option for players hoping to go pro. The school also offers courses in gaming, design and emerging technology, giving students a chance to pursue a profession in the industry outside of the competitive arena, and students on a varsity team at Miami have scholarship options available.
1. University of California Irvine
UC Irvine is the first public university to create an esports program with teams for League of Legends, Overwatch and Super Smash Bros. Its teams are highly decorated, being the 2018 College League of Legends champions and competing in the first Fiesta Bowl Overwatch National Championships. Academic scholarships are available for the players, as well as a support system including coaches. Even more, UCI works to connect its players with internships and careers in the gaming and esports industry, providing events, panel discussions and networking opportunities for students and local gamers.
Photo courtesy of Riot Games