Do Esports Scholarships Exist?

Written by: Kristyn Pilgrim
Updated: 8/07/20

Many colleges now have varsity esports teams, and video game tournaments are regularly streamed and viewed by millions on Twitch. If you’re a video gamer with quick reflexes and hours of practice under your belt, you might wonder if you can leverage these skills to earn college scholarships. 

The quick answer is, yes, esports scholarships absolutely exist. And not only that, but they are rapidly increasing in prevalence. So, how do you go about finding these scholarships and qualifying for them?

Esports scholarships, just like other types of sports scholarships, tend to be school-specific and require that you be recruited onto their varsity team. So, you don’t apply for these scholarships independent of your college applications like you would a scholarship for women in science or something similar. To seek esports scholarships, you need to target a school that has an esports team and make efforts to be recruited. 

In this article, we outline the growth that esports have seen in recent years, take a look at the growing number of institutions with varsity esports teams, and guide you through the process of esports college recruiting.

The Growth of Esports

Although the history of esports can be traced back to 1972 when thousands participated in a Space Invaders Championship, the modern era of esports began to blossom in 1998 when a StarCraft 2 tournament garnered 50 million online viewers. 

The early 2000s saw the birth of World Cyber Games, the Electronic Sports World Cup, and Major League Gaming. Since 2016, esports viewership has seen a massive increase. Current predictions estimate a total viewership of over 500 million by 2021, with an annual growth rate of 14%. It is quickly outpacing viewership of all other major league sports.

Prize pools are now reaching the tens of millions, and sponsors such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Red Bull have been flocking in to support elite teams.

In July of 2016, the first Collegiate Esports Summit was held in Kansas City, Missouri, and the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) was formed. At that time, only seven schools had varsity esports teams, but now that number has surpassed 170.

National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE)

NACE is a nonprofit organization that organizes varsity college esports. Their goal is to develop and advance collegiate esports and to lay the groundwork for students to become eligible to participate, stay on a clear path to graduation, and earn scholarships to join teams and compete. They currently boast:

  • 170+ member schools
  • 5,000+ student-athletes
  • $16 million in esports scholarships
  • Annual national convention

In partnership with NACE, Next College Student Athlete (NCSA) offers recruiting services to seek out talented gamers for varsity teams. Most esports scholarships seem to range between $500 and $8,000 per academic year, but some schools have begun offering full rides. 

In fact, with how the number of schools participating in esports and offering scholarships has grown in just the past few years, you can expect these opportunities to become more and more prevalent.

What Games Can You Get Scholarships For?

College programs recruit for a variety of popular game titles. Among these are:

  • Multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) titles, such as League of Legends (LoL), Defense of the Ancients (DotA) 2, Heroes of the Storm, and Smite
  • First-person shooters, such as Overwatch, Fortnite, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS: GO), PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), and Paladins
  • Collectible card games, such as Hearthstone
  • Real-time strategy games, such as StarCraft II
  • Sports games, such as Rocket League, FIFA, and Madden
  • Fighting games, such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat

If you have a particular game that you consider to be your forte, you will want to check with the schools offering these programs to find one that is a match. On the NACE website, you can search for schools by game to narrow down your list.

How Esports College Recruiting Works

The first step to being recruited is to reach out and make contact with a college coach with an introductory email. Since coaches may receive thousands of these emails, it is important to make yours stand out. Craft an appealing subject line and keep the email specific, concise, and attention-grabbing.

You can find the contact information for the coach or organization from the school search on the NACE website mentioned in the previous section. Also, check out the guidelines on college coach emails on the NCSA website for more pointers.

After the initial email, if you do not hear back, consider a follow-up phone call. If you get a response and a coach seems interested, then you’ve made it past the first hurdle! Once contact is established, be sure to update the coach anytime you achieve a new accomplishment that might be relevant. With luck, you will eventually be invited to prove yourself.

It’s becoming more common for coaches to send anyone who shows interest a recruiting form to fill out. On such a form, you might be asked to list the games you play, how much you practice, your gamer and Discord tag, Twitch channel, and any other relevant information that will allow them to check out your potential or contact you.

Ways that coaches assess a potential recruit include:

  • Watching a highlights or skills video (so you will want to create one of these)
  • Observing and verifying your best stats
  • Assessing your academic qualifications (keep those grades up)
  • Inviting prospective recruits to a camp or tryouts (this allows them to work with you and see how you perform, as well as how you relate to team members)

You can begin contacting college coaches at any time. In fact, talented players have had success by reaching out as young as 12 or 13 years old. Don’t worry about being behind the curve if you don’t start making contact until your sophomore or junior year, which is more common. 

Also, don’t be discouraged if you reach out early but don’t hear anything for a while. Coaches may begin following you or watching what you’re up to after you make contact but then wait to reach out until your sophomore year. 

How Competitive Are Esports Scholarships?

It is difficult to find accurate information on just how competitive these scholarships are because the landscape is changing rapidly. Given current trends, it’s safe to assume these scholarships will become more prevalent and offer higher dollar amounts. But at the same time, more people are becoming aware of them.

It’s safe to assume that you need to be able to compete at a pretty high level to secure one, but what constitutes a high level? You could follow current college esports teams and look up the stats of members online, including their earlier stats, to get a sense of where they were when they started college. 

You can also look and see what the top high school esports teams have been up to. If you have been active in these competitions, it’s a safe bet that you already have a sense of what skills make a winner and which ones leave you behind. 

If you are inexperienced competing at a high level for your grade or age, you should make an effort to break into that arena as soon as you can. If you are young and still in middle school or a freshman in high school, consider contacting coaches or esports athletes and asking them for advice on how to get to a competitive level. 

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