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Esports in College: What You Need to Know (2024)

a group of students competing on an esports team

You likely grew up playing video games and consuming industry-related content. So, it only makes sense that you’re thinking about esports in college and wondering how realistic choosing a school based on its esports program is.

We’ve created this article to give you an overview of what’s happening in college esports. But we also share some background for parents curious about esports' validity. So, jump down to the later sections if you don't want or need the esports overview that’s next.


Find the best colleges for esports, compare costs, and see your chances of acceptance.

What is esports in college?

Parents are often surprised to learn that collegiate esports is much like the traditional sports they participated in when they were in college. Esports, shorts for electronic sports, is a team-based video game competition where players (athletes) wear uniforms, get support from their coaches, and are cheered on by fans. 

Students in esports programs play against each other through various leagues, tournaments, and events. This setup allows them to have fun doing what they love while earning degrees and scholarships. They’re also able to be part of a thriving community, meeting other students with similar interests and building their networks.

Schools with varsity esports programs provide professional coaches, offer scholarships, and have state-of-the-art facilities where student-athletes and clubs can practice and compete. Truly, esports is treated much like any other varsity collegiate sport.

How big is esports in college?

In 2021, the global esports market was valued at $1.22 billion, and it’s projected to reach $5.48 billion by 2029. Sponsorships currently command the biggest slice of that pie, with advertising, media, merchandise, and ticketing rounding out the rest.

That gives you a glimpse into the enormous career ecosystem associated with esports, including some less obvious but essential roles like event promotion, marketing, and media and broadcast management. Not to mention the tech side of things, with the game development and interactive media roles.

So, it only makes sense that colleges and universities have programs to recruit and develop students with these interests and talents.

The National Association of Collegiate eSports (NACE) is the largest membership association working to advance varsity collegiate esports. According to NACE, there are currently 170 member schools with over 5,000 student-athletes participating in varsity esports programs across the U.S. Of course, this number is only growing.

What esports games are played in college?

As you know, interest in the games themselves evolves quickly. Because of that, it’s hard to name the most popular games at any given time. However, Battle Royale and MOBA consistently remain the top game genres.

Generally, you'll see a blend of the following played in esports programs across the country.

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops II & Warzone
  • League of Legends
  • Overwatch
  • Fortnite
  • Dota 2
  • Counterstrike Offensive
  • Hearthstone
  • Counter-Strike
  • Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

College majors for gamers

Whether you want to one day work in the competitive gaming industry or simply enjoy playing with like-minded people, there are plenty of options to find the perfect major while playing esports in college.

Here's a look at some of the more common majors for esports athletes:

Video Game Development

When majoring in video game development, students learn how to create games for multiple platforms using different programming languages like C++, Unity3D, HTML5, CSS, Javascript, and Flash. A person on this path would take courses in programming, AI, VR, testing and QA, and much more.

This major could create opportunities for work with companies like Rockstar Games, Blizzard Entertainment, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, and Activision.

Graphic or Interactive Media Design

This type of degree might set a student up for a career in video game design, among other things. While video game design and development (mentioned above) are not the same, they are closely related. One focuses on how the game looks, and the other on creating the game. But both are common paths for students interested in gaming and esports.

Interactive media designers generally work on web pages, mobile apps, and social media platforms. They may need to learn HTML5 and CSS3. Graphic designers create visual elements for websites, advertisements, brochures, magazines, books, and other materials. A graphic designer must be able to use Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, Dreamweaver, Fireworks, and other software programs.

Software Engineering/Computer Science

This study area is one of the most flexible options for students interested in gaming and esports. For example, with a degree in software engineering or computer science, you could decide to work in the video game industry, but you could also work on products in countless other sectors.

This type of major would prepare a student to be a computer system analyst, software test engineer, UX designer, programmer, and so much more. In a software engineering program, you’d learn different programming languages like C#, Unity3D, HTML5, Python, CSS, JavaScript, and Flash and get exposure to AI, VR, and ML.

Computer Animation

A computer animation degree gives you the skills to create realistic-looking animations for video games, movies, television shows, and more. The best part about studying computer animation is that students usually work on projects from start to finish, which means they get to be creative while learning new skills.

Graduates who study computer animation can find careers working in animation for companies like Walt Disney, Electronic Arts, Nickelodeon, PlayStation, and more, creating video games, movies, and commercials.

Esports Management

For students more interested in the business management side of the industry, there’s the option to major in esports management. Potential careers for students leaving such a program include esports event management, esports marketing, and any other business position within an esports organization.

Classes in esports management align closely with a traditional business management program, but there will usually be 12-15 credit hours of esports-specific courses covering issues like esports governance, events, and merchandising.  

What’s the outlook for jobs in the gaming industry?

You might be wondering if there’s a future for you in esports. Can you find a good-paying job if you choose a school for its esports program? We believe the answer is yes. 

In a recent interview, Lee Trink, CEO of global gaming company FaZe Clan made the case that esports and competitive gaming are an ever-growing piece of the professional sports pie. Trink believes that esports will continue to eat away at market share for other sports, and he used baseball as an example of a sport that’s aging out.

Bigger yet, Trink said that esports is also the future of the entertainment industry. With the rise of the metaverse, gaming will be the center of it all. 

Earlier, we mentioned the industry's astounding projected market growth, which is estimated at 21.9% from 2022 to 2030. Clearly, professional opportunities are opening up every day. From esports business management to the technical side of game development, jobs in the gaming industry will be there when you graduate from college.

Choosing a college for esports

Selecting an esports program shouldn’t be difficult at all. As we mentioned, there are at least 170 NACE member colleges and universities in the country, all with growing programs. In the second part of this article, we discuss the top collegiate esports programs for 2022 and find a piece of the available $16 million in esports scholarships.

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