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.

Asia, Europe Ahead Of The US In Collegiate eSports - Part 1



League Of Legends International Collegiate Championship (Photo: Garena)

League Of Legends International Collegiate Championship (Photo: Garena)

TNL Infographic 015: 2017 Collegiate eSports Report (Infographic: 015)

TNL Infographic 015: 2017 Collegiate eSports Report (Infographic: 015)

While the year was ending with 15 confirmed schools giving out eSports scholarships via tuition assistance and/or room and board, the number is much higher now.

But you gotta wait for that report.

It may seem that the US is taking the lead but Asia has been driving down this path for a while now.

TNL Industry Guest Post 003: James Kozachuk has been building the collegiate eSports ecosystem since 2011, with key roles at the Collegiate Starleague and the High School Starleague. He is currently a researcher at the University of Central Florida, where he studies the effects of eSports programs on students. In addition, he works with Blizzard Entertainment's collegiate eSports division, Tespa and has provided his collegiate analytics and data services to multiple Fortune 500 companies. The article has been edited for length.


Campus League Event (Photo: Garena Malaysia/Singapore Facebook )

Campus League Event (Photo: Garena Malaysia/Singapore Facebook )

When anyone involved within the eSports scene hears the words "collegiate eSports," they immediately picture leagues like Riot Games' "ULOL Campus Series," Blizzard's "Heroes of the Dorm," or universities like UC Irvine and Robert Morris University creating arenas on their campuses. While North America has been building this scene for years, the Asian scene has been developing even more rapidly.

Hot off the success of the first ever developer run collegiate tournament (Garena, Riot Games' South East Asian distribution partner, called their "Inter-Varsity Tournament") in 2012, the world was introduced years later to the first "Campus Series" event. University students from Singapore and Malaysia participated in separate tournaments and crowned national winners.

By 2016, Campus Series events would be introduced to almost every major country in the region: China, The Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Thailand.

2016 ICC Championship In Taipei (Photo: YouTube)

2016 ICC Championship In Taipei (Photo: YouTube)

These tournaments even culminated in a grand-finals in Taiwan - moved originally from Thailand as a result of the Thai King's death in 2016.

There's also action on the international level.

A fight between the best Chinese and American universities was sponsored by DouyuTV - the Sequoia/Tencent backed version of China's Twitch - and organized by Tespa, Blizzard Entertainment’s collegiate eSports team.

China v. US Intercollegiate Competition (Photo:

China v. US Intercollegiate Competition (Photo:


University eSports Masters European Series (Photo: University eSports Masters

University eSports Masters European Series (Photo: University eSports Masters

Europe's disadvantage in collegiate eSports is that their students do not share the same level of school pride in sport that we've got here in the good Ol' US of A. Most sports focus on city clubs, rather than schools - especially given how distributed European campuses are.

That is, except for the United Kingdom, the birthplace of school club sports.

The National University eSports League (NUEL) has been organizing collegiate esports competitions since 2010 and has partnered with Riot Games in some capacity since 2015. Almost 3,000 students from 96 institutions - 60%+ of all institutions in the UK - participated in this league.

That makes it the most densely populated collegiate league in the world.

NUEL: National University eSports League (Photo: NUEL)

NUEL: National University eSports League (Photo: NUEL)

While the United Kingdom may be ahead of the other European nations in terms of schools and players, various leagues have cropped across the continent: France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Germany.

Wait, is this starting to sound familiar?

Enter the University eSports Masters, a competition that brings the top teams from each nation together for a one-of-a-kind regional finals.  While there appeared to be no developer support during its first iteration in 2016, Twitch and their new Student initiative have begun their support in the league for the 2017 season.

While not part of the University eSports Masters, a special shoutout is needed for the Dutch Collegiate League. Two years running, the DCL was featured on their nation's FOX Sports channel in 2016, just as eSports has penetrated traditional sports TV channels here.

Also interesting is Riot Games’ recent hire of a Collegiate Esports Manager for CIS (Russian block) nations last year.

More collegiate esports on the horizon?



Australian Sports Commission (Photo: Government of Australia)

Australian Sports Commission (Photo: Government of Australia)

Wait, there's more?

There's more. Riot Games has been running their Oceanic University Championships since 2013, and ESL has partnered with the University eSports League, another Australian university competition.

In June 2016 it was announced that League of Legends would be the newest sport to be sanctioned by the Australian Sports Commission and the title would be played at the premiere university competition, the Regional and Australian University Games.  

Having an eSport title being officially sanctioned is a big deal as it cuts through a whole lot of bureaucracy needed to build the right infrastructure.

In addition to Riot Games hiring a CIS region Collegiate eSports Manager, they also hired a similar role in Oceania.

If it's not obvious, Riot is investing heavily in the future of international collegiate eSports and their place in it.


Part 2: High Schools, National Classes and Prepping eSports For The Future