Currently, 34 U.S. colleges support varsity esports programs, compared to only 7 a year ago. That number will most likely double — if not triple — over the next couple of years as schools scramble to find a seat on the college esports train.
In the United States, varsity esports is new. As such, there’s no go-to blueprint for creating and managing clubs. Some esports teams are run by athletic departments, some by academic departments, and others by the office of student affairs.
That said, collegiate esports squads operate similarly to traditional teams: outstanding players earn scholarships, clubs pay coaches, and corporate sponsorship deals help supplement programs.
“Most of these are small schools,” said Kurt Melcher, who developed the first college esports program at Robert Morris University Illinois in 2014. “But I can promise you that somewhere on Notre Dame’s campus, somewhere on Northwestern’s campus, they’re asking how they can get involved.”
Move Over NCAA, Esports Has Its Own Collegiate Association
Until recently, college-level esports didn’t have a governing body and the NCAA wasn’t interested. So, last year, interested parties created the nonprofit National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE). Currently, 31 U.S. college esports teams are members of NACE. That figure is likely to grow now that NCAA Division I schools are making room for esports programs.
The most recent member to join NACE is Stephens College, an all-women’s school in Missouri. They will have a 12 player squad, run by the IT department, set to compete in a collegiate Overwatch league. Additionally, all the players will receive partial scholarships.
College Esports Scholarships
Analysts estimate that the annual esports scholarship pool will rise to $7 million by 2018. From an academic standpoint, this is great for schools because the majority of cyber athletes focus on sciences, engineering, and math. In other words, by attracting gamers, they’re attracting brainy students.
NBA and NFL franchises are developing esports rosters as well, which raises the question: As leagues become more established, will gamers be drafted from colleges and universities, just like traditional athletes?
“The evolution of esports on college campuses is squarely on our radar,” said IMG College President Tim Pernetti. “There is a very real similarity in the passions that college sports fans and esports enthusiasts have for their schools.”