The 10 Best Colleges for Gamers & ESports Scholarships

Esports, or electronic sports, is one of the newest and fastest-growing forms of competition today. The global esports market is valued over $1 billion this year and is expected to surpass $1.8 billion next year.

Though it refers to competition via online video games, its classification as a sport comes from its reliance on many aspects of traditional sports: teamwork, reflexes, strategy, and skilled execution. Gamers, like traditional athletes, also have the chance to go professional, earn sponsorships, and become rich. The International 10 Dota 2 Championship in 2019 had a total prize pool of $34 million, the most of any esports tournament ever.

Colleges have taken notice and now offer esports scholarships alongside athletic ones. The concept is relatively new, but there are already 175 U.S. colleges that offer varsity esports programs recognized by the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE). The esports world is currently making strides to achieve player equality and gain widespread acceptance. Meanwhile, the first few classes of esports scholars are working towards their degrees and will have the opportunity to make their career in video games.

Today, we’ll outline the top 10 scholarship programs by amount and describe the benefits of each school. The ranking is based on the list created by Lineups, a sports ranking website. 

All listed scholarships are renewable for four years, meaning if you receive a scholarship for $10,000, for example, you will receive $10,000 per year of attendance for up to four years.

10. University of California at Irvine (Irvine, CA)

UC Irvine
Allyunion, UC Irvine view from Watson Bridge, CC BY-SA 4.0

Since 2016, UCI’s esports program has trained varsity teams in League of Legends and Overwatch. Varsity scholarships are up to $6,000 and junior varsity scholarships go up to $1,000. Teams benefit from the guidance of coaches, managers, analysts, an exercise physiologist, a team psychologist, and a player support coordinator.

Like most traditional college athletes, UCI esports team members must balance academics, practice, and anything else they may have going on. Often, scholarship winners go into computer science or computer game science, fields that complement esports.

The UCI Esports Arena was the first of its kind on any college campus. The 3,500 square foot facility houses 72 top-tier iBUYPOWER computers and Logitech gear, courtesy of their sponsors. The Console & Community Corner hosts campus club events and meetings, including virtual reality demos by the esports program.

Scholarships available: Up to $6,000 per student player

Represented Games for ESports Scholarships: League of Legends, Overwatch

9. Hawaii Pacific University (Honolulu, HI)

Hawaii Pacific University
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

The typical image of college in Hawaii is perfect weather, rich culture, and beautiful beaches. Now you can add competitive gaming to the list.

With scholarships ranging from $1,000-$6,000 per year, HPU was the first in the state to institute an esports program and arena. Located by the Aloha Tower Marketplace, the 3,000 square foot Esports Arena boasts impressive gaming rigs, VR stations, and indoor and outdoor viewing areas. 

The arena also offers League of Legends players the premium League Unlocked experience, which unlocks all champions, 100+ skins, and bonus rewards.

In 2019, HPU hosted its first annual esports summer training camp for youths ages 7-15. The month-long event included coaching, tournaments, coding workshops, and learning experiences with current esports professionals. This included a discussion between HPU alum and radio DJ Haz-Matt and his friend Jacob, a Twitch streamer.

Scholarships available: Up to $6,000 per student player

Represented Games for ESports Scholarships: League of Legends, Dota 2, CS:GO, Super Smash Brothers: Melee, Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm

8. University of Texas at Dallas (Richardson, TX)

University of Texas at Dallas
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

After a $100,000 donation by Daniel Shen ‘10, UTD renamed its esports facility the Sector 7 Energy Esports Gaming Arena, after a sector in Final Fantasy VII — an influential game in Shen’s gaming life.

This donation will boost the school’s burgeoning program to meet the growing competitiveness of the esports industry. UTD itself is a top public university, with a top 10 information technology program

Currently, UTD offers scholarships for League of Legends and Overwatch players. In its first year, the League team made the ESPN Top 25 College League of Legends Coaches Poll. The esports program is still very new, so it is actively looking for talented players to take their League and Overwatch rosters to the next level. 

Scholarships available: Up to $6,000 per student player

Represented Games for ESports Scholarships: Overwatch, League of Legends

7. Full Sail University (Winter Park, FL)

Full Sail University
Comb4ckszn, Full Sail University, CC BY-SA 4.0

Esports is Full Sail’s only athletic program, so they’re pretty serious about it.

The university’s academic programs focus primarily on audio, film, and media production, video game design, animation, music, and other studies related to media and entertainment. The school has also started offering augmented and virtual reality courses. Thus, esports scholars can learn the ins and outs of the games they compete in, as well as have the opportunity to create their own.

Full Sail’s “Fortress” is an 11,200 square foot esports arena with over 400 LED tiles, 10 million pixels, 500 seats, and two independent sound systems operated by state-of-the-art control rooms. It’s the largest collegiate esports arena in the country. 

Full Sail recently partnered with Magic Gaming to further accelerate the esports program and expand scholarship opportunities.

Notable alumni include Call of Duty developer Mohammad Alavi, Grammy-winning engineer Brad Blackwood, and The Path of Motus creator Michael Hicks.

Scholarships available: Up to $8,000 per student player

Represented Games for ESports Scholarships: Overwatch, Madden, League of Legends, Hearthstone, Fortnite, Dragonball Fighter Z, Rocket League, Super Smash Brothers, SMITE, Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds

6. Concordia University – St. Paul (St. Paul, MN)

Concordia University St. Paul
McGhiever, Concordia University Saint Paul, CC BY-SA 4.0

Concordia is a small, private Lutheran university in St. Paul. It offers a diverse range of degree and certificate programs as well as 17 varsity sports, which now include co-ed competitive gaming.

Like UTD, the Concordia Golden Bears began competing in 2019. Students practice up to six hours a day and juggle gaming with academic coursework. Coach Logan Hermes emphasizes the sports-like aspects of gaming: “Players have to make good, quick, and smart decisions that affect the whole team’s play in a matter of seconds in order to win a match.”

And because gamers don’t require a certain physique — say, height for basketball — esports is perhaps the most inclusive collegiate sport out there. Hermes adds, “There are similarities to basketball and Esports from a coaching standpoint with rotations, movement, finding openings and waiting for mistakes to attack.” In fact, esports is often called cognitive athletics.

Scholarships available: Up to $11,000 per student player

Represented Games for ESports Scholarships: League of Legends, Overwatch, Hearthstone, NBA 2k, Rocket League

5. Bellevue University (Bellevue, NE)

Bellevue University
Jared Winkler, Bellevue University, CC BY 4.0

Bellevue esports scholars benefit from sponsors Underarmour, North Star Athletic Association, Prestosports, and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).

Furthermore, the university has stocked the Bellevue Esports Arena — also known as the BRUIN Bunker — with top-tier equipment, including Alienware desktops, Razer peripherals, and high-end monitors, graphics cards, and processors.

The program, begun in 2017, offers scholarships to both male and female esports athletes, promoting inclusivity in an industry that has long been male-dominated. And with a substantial sum of up to $11,000 per year, the scholarship’s short history has already made a difference in students’ ability to afford tuition and thus get a college education.

Famous alumni of Bellevue include MLB player T.J. Bohn, former DC circuit law clerk Shon Hopwood, and current Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Judd H. Lyons.

Scholarships available: Up to $11,000 per student player

Represented Games for ESports Scholarships: League of Legends, Overwatch, Hearthstone

4. Ohio State University (Columbus, OH)

Ohio State University
Robert Chriss, Ohio Union Front, CC BY-SA 3.0

OSU stands out from the crowd of colleges offering gaming scholarships because it also offers academic tracks in gaming-related topics. In addition to an esports major, OSU teaches classes on esports management, game art and production, game design, programming, the business of games, and health and rehabilitation.

By incorporating the practice of esports with relevant studies in cybersecurity, ecommerce, AI, VR, and cloud infrastructure, students graduate not only with the potential to become professional gamers or streamers, but also with widely applicable skills in technology.

The esports facility in Lincoln Tower opened in 2019 and houses numerous virtual reality stations, video game consoles, a broadcast studio, a competition room, and 80 gaming PCs. The equipment was made available in large part through a partnership with Dell.

Scholarships available: Up to $12,000 per student player

Represented Games for ESports Scholarships: League of Legends, Overwatch

3. Valparaiso University (Valparaiso, IN)

Valparaiso University
Runner1928, Victory Bell of Valparaiso University by Athletics and Recreation Center, CC BY-SA 3.0

Valparaiso emphasizes aspects of community and character-building when selecting its esports scholars.

Currently, only League of Legends is represented for the scholarship, but the university has teams for Overwatch, Super Smash Brothers, iRacing, Rocket League, and Magic the Gathering as well. Gamers benefit from a dedicated esports lab and coach.

Gaming is not the only area Valparaiso excels. Most freshmen take a year of Core classes modeled after the University of Chicago’s Core Curriculum, which offers diverse, introductory liberal arts classes in the arts, humanities, STEM, and social science. Those interested in continuing this interdisciplinary course of study enroll at Valpo’s Christ College, the undergraduate honors school.

Notable grads of Valparaiso University include ESPN broadcaster Adam Amin, SNL writer John Lutz, and Grammy-winning record producer Judith Sherman.

Scholarships available: Up to $14,000 per student player

Represented Games for ESports Scholarships: League of Legends

2. Robert Morris University (Chicago, IL)

Robert Morris University
Zol87, Leiter II Building, CC BY-SA 2.0

Back in 2014, RMU was the first university in the world to offer esports scholarships. It paved the way for other colleges to follow its lead into the rapidly growing industry of online gaming.

Some of RMU’s sponsors include iBUYPOWER, ASUS, Cooler Master, and DXRacer. Their products stock the RMU Esports Arena with high-quality gaming computers, keyboards, accessories, and gaming chairs.

Since 2020, the school has merged with Roosevelt University and offers a plethora of undergraduate and graduate programs, including associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees.

Scholarships available: Up to $19,000 per student player

Represented Games for ESports Scholarships: Super Smash Brothers, CS:GO, Overwatch, League of Legends, Rocket League

1. Arcadia University (Glenside, PA)

Arcadia University
BaldL, Grey Towers Castle at Arcadia University, CC BY-SA 4.0

Arcadia University’s esports program is still new — just started in 2019 — but already it’s drawing tons of attention for offering a hefty $25,000 scholarship for prospective team members.

The 1,500 square foot gaming arena allows teams to hone their skills in League of Legends, Hearthstone, Overwatch, and Rocket League. The program remains in its early stages and plans to add five to 10 players every fall until they have a total roster of 30 players. 

The arena itself is equipped with 36 gaming PCs, high-end accessories, gaming consoles, and a projection system for coaches to use for game review.

In terms of academics, Arcadia students particularly benefit from excellent study abroad programs and undergraduate teaching. U.S. News ranks the school #4 and #16 in these categories, respectively.

Scholarships Available: Up to $25,000 per student player

Represented Games for ESports Scholarships: League of Legends, Hearthstone, Overwatch, and Rocket League