In 2018, eSports' national profile skyrocketed. As of March 2018, around 50 colleges offered varsity eSports programs certified by the National Association of Collegiate eSports. In January 2018, opening day of the Overwatch League outperformed Thursday Night Football, averaging 280,000 Twitch viewers per minute and maxing out at 437,000 viewers. Throughout 2018, legendary Fortnite streamer, Ninja, appeared in videos with rappers Drake and Travis Scott and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. He is also the first eSports athlete to grace the cover of ESPN the Magazine.
More and more universities are realizing the value of eSports, which can increase a school's national profile and assist with marketing. With more schools offering varsity teams, eSports athletes may face difficulty deciding where to compete. The following list assists athletes with that decision, helping them differentiate between programs that may seem similar at first glance.
All of the schools on this list operate varsity eSports programs and scholarships. As such, the 25 listed schools constitute the best options for eSports athletes looking to compete at the collegiate level.
|1||Maryville University of Saint Louis Town and Country, MO||
Located in suburban St. Louis, Maryville University originally opened as an all-women's college, although the school began admitting men in the 1960s. Maryville created its varsity eSports program in 2015 and became the biggest name in college eSports gaming by winning the 2016 League of Legends championship and boasting an undefeated record of 40 wins in the 2017 Collegiate Star League.
The team at Maryville focuses exclusively on League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm. The program employs professional gamer Daniel "Clerkie" Clerke as a dedicated coach/analyst. Under the guidance of Clerke, the competitive team practices three times per week, frequently scrimmaging against other college or professional teams. The school maintains a state-of-the-art practice facility for its eSports program. Athletes interested in beginning the recruiting process at Maryville should submit this questionnaire. The team awards scholarships of up to $2,000.
|2||Robert Morris University Illinois Chicago, IL||
Often confused with an identically named school in Pennsylvania, Robert Morris University operates a central campus in the heart of Chicago. RMU created the notion of a varsity eSports program, offering the first eSports scholarships to future members of the school's League of Legends team in 2014.
The team currently competes in Overwatch, League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), Hearthstone, and Dota 2. The eSports program maintains dedicated coaches for Overwatch, Heroes, League of Legends, and CS:GO. The program leverages sponsorship deals with big names like ASUS, DXRacer, and iBuyPower to provide athletes with some of the best facilities in the nation. Interested students must complete RMU's streamlined recruiting process, which starts with the completion of a Google Form.
|3||Miami University Oxford, OH||
Based in Oxford, Ohio, Miami University boasts greater name recognition and a higher academic ranking than most schools that offer varsity eSports programs. Miami also provides students with a picturesque campus and plenty of collegiate nightlife.
Miami began offering eSports scholarships in 2016. The program found immediate success, winning the 2017 National Association of Collegiate eSports Overwatch season and finishing as runner-up at the 2017 NACE invitational in League of Legends. Miami also competes in Hearthstone, and the program once earned a feature on the celebrated PlayOverwatch Twitch stream. The school created a minor in digital gaming and an on-campus eSports arena in the King Library. Miami's teams compete in Tespa's collegiate eSports leagues.
|4||University of California-Irvine Irvine, CA||
Located in sunny Orange County, California, UC Irvine became the first public university to create a varsity eSports team. The program primarily focuses on Overwatch and League of Legends, awarding $5,610 scholarships to League players and $2,500 scholarships to Overwatch players. The campus loves eSports, as the school states that 72% of UC Irvine's student body participates in some form of gaming.
UC Irvine houses one of the nation's most extensive eSports facilities, which currently includes more than 70 gaming computers. The school also differentiates itself by focusing on diversity and inclusion in the composition of its eSports team. Furthermore, as a member of the University of California System, UC Irvine takes academics seriously, providing a strong option for athletes who want to compete and get an excellent education.
|5||University of Utah Salt Lake City, UT||
Though the University of Utah is a late adopter of eSports, the Salt Lake City school became one of the largest universities to offer a varsity eSports program when it began offering partial scholarships, valued at $1,000 per year, in the fall of 2017. Around the same time, Utah also created an undergraduate gaming degree. The university's history with gaming runs deep, as the school created a game development program in 2007.
Utah brands itself as "Gamer U," competing in Hearthstone and Rocket League in addition to the League of Legends and Overwatch. Utah's eSports program consists of 33 members, a number that includes players, coaches, and administrators. Students interested in joining Utah's League of Legends team can begin the recruiting process by filling out this form.
|6||Illinois Wesleyan University Bloomington, IL||
Illinois Wesleyan University earns its lofty spot among the best college varsity eSports programs largely thanks to its strong academics. The private liberal arts school is new to eSports, as the program began competing and offering partial scholarships to rostered gamers in the fall of 2018. The team focuses exclusively on League of Legends, recruiting professional gamer Callum Fletcher to build the program and coach the team.
IWU constructed an eSports facility on campus to jumpstart its varsity team. While the current team only rosters 10 gamers, the program constantly looks for new talent, and interested athletes should submit this form to begin the recruiting process. Thanks to its funding and leadership, IWU's eSports program is positioned to become an eSports powerhouse.
|7||Columbia College Columbia, MO||
In 2014, at the precipice of the eSports boom, Columbia College president Dr. Scott Dalrymple garnered national attention by promising free textbooks to any Columbia student who beat him in Madden. When students defeated him, he kept his promise. Dalrymple continued to push for eSports at Columbia with quotes like this one:
"eSports aren't the future; they're the present. True skill at video gaming is just as impressive, and just as legitimate, as excellence in traditional sports."
With the president's support, the Columbia, Missouri, school provides a fertile ground for eSports athletes. The college founded its League of Legends team in 2015, providing partial scholarships. The program continues to focus primarily on League of Legends, participating in the Collegiate Star League. Interested athletes should submit this questionnaire to start the recruiting process.
|8||Southwest Baptist University Bolivar, MO||
Southwest Baptist University's varsity eSports program first competed in the fall of 2016. SBU created the program as a result of "The Office," a pilot program in which SBU students competed against each other in various Xbox One games.
"Gamers have existed for decades on college campuses, competing online and against each other in the solitude of their dorm rooms," Chris Allison -- the creator of the pilot program and the current coach of the school's junior varsity eSports team -- said at the time. "This new program will not only give us the opportunity to highlight the skills of our players, compete intercollegiately, and create on-campus community, but it presents us with the opportunity to offer scholarships to high-level players and provide them with an equally high-level education."
SBU awards up to $10,000 per scholarship and offers a dedicated scholarship to a Twitch streamer every year. The team broadcasts its own Twitch stream. Interested athletes can kick off the recruiting process by submitting this questionnaire.
|9||Georgia Southern University Statesboro, GA||
Based in Statesboro, Georgia, Southern University provides the standard benefits of a state school: strong academics, plentiful resources, and typical collegiate nightlife. Georgia Southern began competing in eSports in 2012, with the program seeing remarkable growth in the past two years in particular. Georgia Southern's eSports program currently supports six teams: League of Legends, Rocket League, Smite, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, and Call of Duty.
Georgia Southern's program differs slightly from others in that the teams take a lot of "walk-ons" -- students who earn a spot through tryouts as opposed to students who get recruited. Once they make the team, eSports athletes gain access to the same perks that other athletes receive, including gear, contracts, and practices. Georgia Southern makes a concerted effort to hire professional gamers as coaches.
|10||Ashland University Ashland, OH||
Based in Ashland, Ohio, Ashland University opened in the late 19th century. Originally founded in conjunction with the Brethren Church, Ashland successfully evolved with the times, and the school now focuses on "preparing students for exciting professions and careers." This focus includes a varsity eSports program, one of the few programs in the nation to offer scholarships to Fortnite players. The program also recruits athletes for Hearthstone, Rocket League, Starcraft 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and League of Legends.
All eSports athletes at Ashland receive team gear, including a jersey, backpack, mousepad, mouse, headset, and jacket. Ashland's eSports teams practice in the school's on-campus facility, which contains 25 top-of-the-line gaming PCs and chairs in addition to widescreen television sets for coaching purposes. The team also brings in guest speakers -- mainly professional players -- to address athletes in a seminar series.
|11||Georgia State University Atlanta, GA||
Georgia State University operates from the heart of Atlanta. While Georgia State's eSports program is in the startup stage, the university's resources, location, and reputation mean that the program could see massive growth in the next few years.
Georgia State currently offers scholarships to eSports athletes as supplements to HOPE scholarships. The eSports program competes in League of Legends, Brawlhalla, and Smite, rostering approximately 18 athletes. Georgia State fills varsity slots through intrasquad competition and orientation sessions. The university competes against other schools in the National Association of Collegiate eSports and the upstart Georgia eSports League, which includes Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State, and the University of North Georgia, focusing exclusively on Brawlhalla.
|12||Boise State University Boise, ID||
Offering the traditional resources and scale of a state university, Boise State created its eSports team in 2017. Though the program originally focused on Rocket League, Overwatch, and League of Legends, Boise State also competes in Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone. The team primarily recruits members through an extensive, weeklong tryout process at the start of the school year. All prospective team members must maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA.
Boise State's eSports program competes in the National Association of Collegiate eSports in addition to Tespa, uLoL, and the Collegiate Star League. Boise State's Department of Educational Technology houses the team, and professors Chris Haskell and Brett Shelton supervise and coach the squad. The team also frequently streams matches through its Twitch stream.
|13||Kansas Wesleyan University Salina, KS||
A Methodist-affiliated liberal arts university based in Salina, Kansas, Wesleyan University maintains a small operation, enrolling only 791 students. Nevertheless, KWU punches above its weight in eSports. The school competes in the Collegiate Star League in League of Legends and also competes in Hearthstone, Rocket League, Overwatch, and Super Smash Bros.
Founded in the fall of 2015, KWU's program grew consistently and achieved strong results against teams from larger schools. As a result, the school built a state-of-the-art eSports arena, which ensures that all of its equipment is less than two years old. The program brought in Gidd Sasser to coach the program in April 2018. Sasser previously led UNC-Charlotte's program, helping the team compete in Overwatch, Rocket League, League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm, and Hearthstone. All interested athletes should submit the recruiting form on the team's website.
|14||Bellevue University Bellevue, NE||
Based in Bellevue, Nebraska, Bellevue University primarily focuses on providing education to working professionals, offering many of its programs online. As such, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 76% of the university's undergraduate students are at least 25 years old.
Bellevue's on-campus offerings include a varsity eSports program. The school created the team in the fall of 2017, naming Alex Rogers -- an admissions counselor born and raised in Bellevue -- as its first head coach. The team's 14-athlete roster began by focusing exclusively on League of Legends but added Overwatch to its slate for the 2018-2019 season. The team practices in an arena known as the "Bruin Bunker." Athletes interested in joining the Bruins should watch this recruiting video on YouTube, which provides insight into the day-to-day life of the team.
|15||Stephens College Columbia, MO||
Operating out of Columbia, Missouri, Stephens College is one of the oldest women's colleges in the U.S., founded in 1833. The college holds the distinction of the only all-women varsity eSports program in the nation, a significant fact given the male-dominated nature of the field (65% of professional gamers in eSports' identify as male). The team focuses exclusively on Overwatch tournaments, competing nationally through the National Association of Collegiate eSports and Tespa. The team's success consistently draws national media coverage, including from large outlets like ESPN.
Stephens founded its eSports program in the fall of 2017 after a 16-month planning period. The school offers partial scholarships to varsity eSports athletes. The team also maintains its own Twitch stream. Interested recruits should submit the team's application form.
|16||Lourdes University Sylvania, OH||
Lourdes University offers a strong liberal arts education grounded in Roman Catholic and Franciscan values. In July 2016, the school hired Dr. Mary Ann Gawelek as its next president. Gawelek sought to create a more innovative environment at Lourdes. As a result, Lourdes created a varsity eSports program in 2017, a decision that Gawelek said is aligned with the university's larger mission.
"In order to participate in eSports you have to have the mental ability and critical-thinking skills to do game-playing in general; you have to have developed the ability to function on a team; and you have to have a competitive nature that drives you toward success," Gawelek said at the time. "It links well with a liberal arts education."
Lourdes competes in the Collegiate Star League. The eSports program focuses on League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm, awarding partial scholarships to athletes who specialize in those games. The university opened an on-campus eSports arena in its rec center in fall 2017. The arena houses 25 state-of-the-art individual gaming stations.
|17||Midland University Fremont, NE||
A small, private liberal arts college based in Fremont, Nebraska, Midland University launched its eSports program in fall 2016 as the school's 28th varsity sport. The program distinguished itself by offering room and board in addition to scholarships to its initial recruits. Midland's eSports program now competes in the Collegiate Star League and Tespa in Overwatch, League of Legends, and Hearthstone.
Midland currently rosters 18 eSports athletes and recently hired a new head coach -- Nathan Ragsdell, a well-respected gamer and coach who worked to expand the Overwatch community in Omaha. The team operates its own Twitch stream. Midland supports the team enthusiastically, throwing weekly watch parties for the team's matches in an on-campus building.
|18||Tiffin University Tiffin, OH||
Based in Tiffin, Ohio, Tiffin University's central campus houses a state-of-the-art, 4,000-square-foot eSports facility. The facility includes name-brand gaming mice, keyboards, chairs, and headsets in addition to 15 individual gaming terminals, each of which provides dual monitors.
Tiffin launched its varsity eSports program in fall 2017. The team currently competes in uLoL and offers partial scholarships to its athletes. The squad focuses primarily on League of Legends competitions and training, although the program also competes in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. The team enjoys benefits comparable to other Tiffin Dragons varsity squads, including jackets, facility access, and gear. The Dragons frequently send varsity and junior varsity squads to competitions. All eSports athletes interested in suiting up for the Dragons should submit this questionnaire.
|19||University of Pikeville Pikeville, KY||
Located in the titular city of Pikeville, Kentucky, the University of Pikeville -- known locally as UPIKE -- focuses on a liberal arts education grounded in Presbyterian values. In 2014, UPIKE became the nation's second college to offer eSports as a varsity athletics program. The school awarded its first eSports scholarship in 2015. The current team focuses almost exclusively on Hearthstone and League of Legends.
The inception of UPIKE's eSports program benefited from a president in its corner:
"We want to teach our students to use new technology like it is second nature and be able to translate what makes a good League of Legends player into a good student," then-president James L. Hurley said in 2014. "Our students will be involved in emerging global trends while offering great technology opportunities right here at home."
UPIKE's varsity teams compete in the Collegiate Star League. Athletes interested in gaming at UPIKE should follow the steps on this webpage.
|20||Southwestern College Winfield, KS||
A Methodist-affiliated liberal arts college based in Winfield, Kansas, Southwestern opened in the late 19th century. The school recently began offering varsity eSports and provides potential athletes with two options: grant recipient or general participant.
Grant recipients receive an annual award of up to $5,000 from Southwestern. The school divides grant recipients into two subcategories: competitor and participant. Competitors play on the team, receiving priority access to gaming PCs, an annual Tespa membership, and a vote in gaming software decisions. Participants perform support activities, such as event and stream management. They also train with the goal of reaching competitor status.
General participants do not receive any funding for eSports. However, they may accept a different activity grant from Southwestern, and they receive the same chance to achieve competitor status as grant recipients.
|21||Indiana Institute of Technology Fort Wayne, IN||
Based in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Indiana Tech specializes in career-focused programs, offering degrees to working professionals from 13 satellite centers across Indiana and Kentucky. The school's eSports team -- the Indiana Tech Warriors -- began as a club sport during the 2015-2016 school year before earning varsity status. The program includes two squads -- orange and black -- and competes in Overwatch, League of Legends, and Hearthstone in the Collegiate Star League.
The Warriors just added Overwatch to their slate of varsity games in fall 2018, so the 13-member 2018 recruiting class consists primarily of Overwatch specialists. The League of Legends varsity team completed a strong season in 2017-2018, earning a record of 4-2. The Warriors maintain a dedicated Twitch channel for their matches.
|22||Keuka College Keuka Park, NY||
Based in Keuka Park in New York, Keuka College offers liberal arts programs grounded in experiential education in addition to pre-professional programs. The college founded its varsity eSports program in 2015, focusing exclusively on League of Legends and competing in uLoL. The team benefits from the college's new 10GBps data backbone and network infrastructure (valued at $2 million).
Then-president Dr. Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera focused on integrating topics such as digital literacy, digital competencies, and data analysis in Keuka's curriculum, making eSports a natural extension of the program. "Athletics, whether they're played on the field or online, provide opportunities for deeper learning," he said in 2015. "eSports provide students with a training ground to practice making rapid decisions, managing resources and expenditures, and working as a team. All of these skills are essential for the professions of the future."
All interested athletes can begin the recruiting process by completing this form.
|23||Trine University Angola, IN||
Based in Angola, Indiana, Trine University also operates multiple satellite campuses across Indiana and Michigan. Trine launched its varsity eSports program at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year. The squad currently competes in Rocket League, League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2, and Hearthstone through the Collegiate Star League. Alex Goplin -- a former football player and admissions director at Trine -- currently coaches the team.
In 2018, Trine finished construction on the MTI Center, which includes a state-of-the-art eSports arena with top-of-the-line gaming chairs and monitors. The MTI Center also houses Trine's bowling and basketball facilities and varsity teams. Athletes seeking to play for Trine's varsity eSports squad must submit this interest form. Trine awards annual scholarships worth $2,000 to each continuous eSports participant.
|24||Lees-McRae College Banner Elk, NC||
A private, Presbyterian-affiliated school based in the heart of Appalachia in Banner Elk, North Carolina, Lees-McRae College owes its name to two women: Suzanna Lees and Elizabeth McRae. Originally opened as an all-female high school called The Elizabeth McRae Institute at the turn of the 20th century, the school eventually merged with an all-male school to form the modern iteration of LMC. The school operates a satellite branch of the New Opportunity School for Women, which aims to increase education and employment opportunities available to women in Appalachia.
LMC's eSports program is one of the newest in the nation. The team competes in Starcraft 2, Overwatch, Hearthstone, and League of Legends. The program competes in uLoL, Tespa, Battlefly, Strive Wire, and the Collegiate Star League. Interested athletes should submit a form on the team's webpage. LMC's eSports squad operates its own Twitch stream.
|25||University of Jamestown Jamestown, NC||
A private, Presbyterian-affiliated liberal arts college located in the eponymous city of Jamestown, North Dakota, the University of Jamestown enrolls approximately 1,000 students. The school's unique Journey to Success approach includes mentorship, a guaranteed internship, guaranteed four-year graduation, self-assessment, and personalized advising.
Jamestown created its eSports team in the fall of 2017. The Jimmies compete in the National Association of Collegiate eSports in League of Legends, Hearthstone, and other games. Director of eSports, Chris Hoke, and head coach, Josh Knutson, supervise the team and structure practices. All interested athletes should submit this form on the team's website to start the recruiting process. The Jimmies often stream their practices and competitions on Twitch, which allows prospective team members to get a feel for the team.