The Top 10 College Varsity Esports Programs
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Playing video games in college is no longer just a casual dorm-room activity. In recent years, college esports have exploded in popularity. The best esports programs not only boast lucrative funding opportunities for student-athletes but are also housed in schools with strong academic reputations and premier resources and equipment.
Below, we introduce our picks for the 10 best esports colleges and universities. All schools on this list operate varsity esports programs that are competitive for prospective players and within their respective leagues.
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We also considered factors such as the quality of a school's gaming facilities, access to esports college scholarships, overall institutional reputation, and U.S. News & World Report ranking.
1. Miami University — Oxford, OH
Miami University was one of the first top-ranked institutions in the U.S. to launch a varsity esports program.
In 2017, the school's varsity Overwatch team took first place in the National Association of Collegiate Esports Overwatch season. Two years later, the school won statewide esports competitions in Overwatch and League of Legends.
MU's esports program includes three varsity teams for League of Legends, Hearthstone, and Overwatch. To support its esports program, the university invested in an esports arena located on the first floor of the campus's King Library.
Students can also work as counselors during an annual summer esports camp. Additionally, MU offers academic programs in esports, including a nationally ranked gaming minor.
2. University of California, Irvine — Irvine, CA
UC Irvine was the first public university to create an official esports program. The school viewed an esports program as both a practical extension of its successful computer game science major and the thriving gaming community. Up and running in fall 2016, UC Irvine's esports program now offers several scholarships.
In addition to providing an entertaining and competitive community for collegiate gamers, UC Irvine's program actively supports world-class game scholars. It also co-hosts an annual conference that brings together academics and industry representatives to discuss and analyze the latest research in esports.
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3. Maryville University — St. Louis, MO
Based in St. Louis, Maryville University is a private school with an enrollment of over 9,000 students. The institution founded its esports program in 2015, and it has quickly made a name for itself.
In 2021, Maryville was named Esports Collegiate Program of the Year. The school's League of Legends team also won national championships in 2016, 2017, and 2019.
Maryville's esports program includes a high-performing League of Legends team and a nationally ranked Overwatch team, with former Maryville players and esports professionals serving as coaches.
In addition to strong coaching, the university boasts a state-of-the-art esports performance center, with a lag-free environment and some of the best PCs available.
4. University of Utah — Salt Lake City, UT
In fall 2017, the University of Utah became one of the largest U.S. universities to offer varsity esports. The U currently supports teams in Hearthstone, League of Legends, Overwatch, and Rocket League.
In addition to a highly competitive esports program, The U maintains a rich gaming history and has offered a video game development degree since 2007.
Through sponsorships with Mountain Dew and Rockstar Energy Drink, the university's esports program is able to provide student-athletes with cutting-edge equipment and scholarships.
5. Illinois Wesleyan University — Bloomington, IL
A small liberal arts college established in 1850, Illinois Wesleyan University supports over 20 varsity sports teams and began offering esports in fall 2018.
The institution, which recruits top gamers and offers scholarships to the most talented esports players, maintains teams in League of Legends, Rocket League, Overwatch, Fortnite, and Super Smash Bros.
Illinois Wesleyan is home to a dedicated esports facility, which provides student-athletes with access to top-of-the-line equipment, including more than 50 computers and a broadcast studio. The facility also serves as a communal space for gaming enthusiasts.
6. Boise State University — Boise, ID
Boise State University created its college esports program in 2017. Teams consist of full- and part-time students in both undergraduate and graduate programs. Student-athletes compete in intercollegiate play through the National Association of Collegiate Esports.
Varsity-level gaming at Boise State includes teams for League of Legends, Overwatch, and Rocket League. Tryouts are held each summer over multiple days. Once you've earned a spot, you gain access to the esports training center, professional coaching, and team merchandise.
Boise State's esports program also offers special esports scholarships and financial aid. Students on scholarships must maintain satisfactory academic performance and attend team practices and selected matches.
7. Georgia State University — Atlanta, GA
Despite being a relative newcomer to the esports scene, Georgia State University has earned its place as one of the top esports programs in the country.
Beginning competition in fall 2017, the school holds membership with both the National Association of Collegiate Esports and the Georgia Esports League. Teams compete in games like Smite, Overwatch, Hearthstone, and League of Legends.
Esports scholarships are available to learners at Georgia State. To maintain scholarships, students must meet a high academic standard and adhere to the university's code of conduct.
In an effort to expand participation beyond Georgia State's gaming community, the university encourages student participation in the broadcasting, production, and marketing of esports and corresponding tournaments.
8. University of Akron — Akron, OH
Located in Ohio, the University of Akron is a public research institution with an enrollment of around 18,000 students. While UA entered competitive esports only a few years ago, the school has quickly earned a spot among the best college esports programs in the U.S.
Since establishing its esports program in 2018, UA has built three state-of-the-art gaming facilities for both varsity athletes and student hobbyists. In addition to the two gaming facilities that are open to all students, the university maintains an esports arena where fans can watch both online and in-person esports competitions.
UA also hosts an annual esports summer camp for children. Student-athletes may work at the camp as counselors and coaches.
9. University of California, Berkeley — Berkeley, CA
UC Berkeley is a competitive force within intercollegiate esports. Racking up wins since 2009, the school has won championships in Starcraft 2, Overwatch, and Dota 2.
Berkeley operates the state-of-the-art Cal Esports Community Center, providing space to both varsity athletes and student gamers. The school also offers a holistic model built on community, competition, lifelong learning, wellness, and social good.
Berkeley is dedicated to creating a more inclusive and diverse gaming community. Its Women in Gaming initiative seeks to increase the female population in the gaming industry and encourage more women to pursue careers in esports.
10. University of Texas at Dallas — Dallas, TX
A relative newcomer, UT Dallas is fast emerging as a top competitor in college esports. The popular Texas university established its esports program in 2018 and has already achieved an impressive amount of success.
In 2021, the school's Super Smash Bros. Ultimate team took home its second national title. And by the end of the 2020-21 school year, the UT Dallas Overwatch team ranked among the top eight esports teams in the country.
UT Dallas maintains varsity esports teams in Overwatch, League of Legends, Rocket League, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. All varsity players are considered student-athletes and receive athletic benefits from the school, including an athletic scholarship, a jersey and uniform, and priority class registration.
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