Asia Ahead of the US in Collegiate eSports


Promotional Image for Tencent's 2015 Campus Series (Photo: Tencent)

Promotional Image for Tencent's 2015 Campus Series (Photo: Tencent)

Collegiate Feature Writer: James Kozachuk

Well, here’s that headline again.

Is it because Haikou College of Economics won the League of Legends International Collegiate Championship last Sunday? Or maybe that more and more Chinese universities are offering scholarships? Or perhaps that Tencent has begun to work directly with MIT to fund their research into collegiate eSports?

Those are all part of this narrative but it’s not the point I want to focus on today. The level of engagement in collegiate eSports in Asia, specifically China, is incredible. Before heading to China, let’s look at how other regions compare to established a baseline.



Teams Participating in the 2015 North American Championship Series (Photo: Riot Games)

Teams Participating in the 2015 North American Championship Series (Photo: Riot Games)

The United States is the undisputed leader in collegiate eSports, with competitions ranging back to at least 2009, 40+ schools giving scholarships worth millions of dollars, and one university crowned queen among the rest. 

  • American Video Game League (AVGL): AVGL published that their competitions attracted students from 1,100 different institutions. After running some math on the tournaments they ran, we can estimate around 5,000 students took part this season.
  • Collegiate Starleague (+ULOL qualifiers): CSL reports that 30,000 students from over 900 institutions took part in their competitions. The number of institutions taking part is lower for CSL as they have a strict “all players must attend the same institution” policy, whereas AVGL is more lax.
  • Tespa: Tespa doesn’t report their individual player or team counts, but a cursory estimate from their tournament portal is 25,000 students this year.

North America: 30,000 (CSL) + 25,000 (Tespa) + 5,000 (AVGL) = 60,000 students. There’s definitely a lot of overlap between the tournaments and within the tournaments themselves, however we have a target size for the current US market size.



University eSports Masters in 2017 (Photo: UEMasters)

University eSports Masters in 2017 (Photo: UEMasters)

Europe is known for their incredible collaboration between organizers. The University eSports Masters grew from six to eight organizers/nations almost immediately after the first article in this series. Each of these organizers have their own tournaments, and connect with a lot of local students:



Europe: 3,000 (UK) + 132 (Ireland) + 312 (Germany) + 264 (Netherlands) + 3,861 (Portugal) + 900 (France) + 1440 (Italy) = 9,909 students. With an educated guess to include Spain, that brings us to about 10,500 students. 



Riot Oceania University Championship (Photo: Riot Games)

Riot Oceania University Championship (Photo: Riot Games)

There's eSports development happening in this region - PE firms buying teams, Australian Rules Football team buying teams and major CPG brands sponsoring teams - it's not fully there yet; but the groundwork is being laid. As mentioned in the first article in this series, the Australian Sports Commission has announced that League of Legends will be a sanctioned game at their Unigames competition.


Oceania: 150 (Australia) + 6,000 (Malaysia) = 6,150 students. The Australian Unigames national qualifier ended yesterday (July 17) and Queensland University of Technology will face the University of Canterbury at the official UniGames sometime between September 24-29. There’s also a Singapore Collegiate League, but it’s difficult to find data about the raw number of students they have participating and it's not nearly as big as it's Malaysian counterpart. 



~6M Chinese Students Participate in Collegiate eSports (Tencent).

~6M Chinese Students Participate in Collegiate eSports (Tencent).

And now where's we get to some serious numbers.


“But James, China has a huge population compared to any of the other regions!”


Sure, but a higher percentage of the China and Taiwan population are engaged in competitive collegiate eSports.

So why is this?

It’s actually a really simple reason: Tencent and Garena use a different competitive and community-building system; they have created competitive ladders for collegiate eSports. Their methodology gets incredibly invasive, requiring every student to send Tencent (China) or Garena (Taiwan) a scanned copy of their student ID card, their major, and proof of enrollment. But in return students will be linked up with students from their school, and matches they play will be recorded as points for their institution.

That last point shouldn't be taken lightly. 

There’s a huge sense of national pride and the two Chinese eSports loving students I’ve talked to have said that they enjoy the collegiate ladder, although they recognize that their own schools will never win given that other universities like Minjiang University will more than likely consistently win.

For an unfortunate sports analogy, it's like still caring about the NCAA Tournament event though you go to a Division II school that has 0 chance of making the big dance.

This ladder system is a way to easily affiliate with one’s school and feel like your part of the community while contributing to your school’s competitive identify. You don’t have to be the best player, but you have to be an A player.

Such a system hasn’t been tested in North America or Europe, but could very well be a way to help grow collegiate eSports. The closest we’ve come is the Clubs system in League of Legends, but there are issues with that as well that I'll cover in a future article.

After University of Toronto got taken down 2-0 by China's Haikou College of Economics last week we're certainly going to need a boost in order to win next year. Whether that be a direct community integration into the game client, improvements in collegiate recruiting, or the creation and expansion of the best collegiate eSports programs in the world- we'll need something.




Asia clearly has a dominant lead AND with Asian eSports investment easily exceeding $1B+ this year, the US has a lot of catching to do. With the rapid growth of US schools providing eSports scholarships and other initiatives, hopefully these are all good signs of starting, let alone improving the infrastructure.