2017 Q2 Collegiate eSports Report: 40 Schools Giving $4M+ In Scholarships


Riot's League of Legends Collegiate Championship (Photo: Riot Games)

Riot's League of Legends Collegiate Championship (Photo: Riot Games)

TNL Industry Guest Post 005: 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.

TNL Take: When people talk about eSports, they often talk about its exponential growth. Usually there's a bit of an exaggeration with these numbers but collegiate eSports is no exaggeration. We've been seeing exponential growth in the scene since inception and it doesn't seem to be slowing.

We estimate 655 students from 40 universities will receive a collective $4.1M+ in scholarship tuition packages for representing their institution as a varsity player in competitive League of Legends, Overwatch, CounterStrike: Global Offensive, and other video game tournaments next year.

Send that quote over to your parents, spouse, or literally anyone you know and they will think you're crazy.

Maryville University 2017 League of Legends College Champions (Video: Youtube)



TNL Infographic 041: 2017 Q2 eSports Schools With Scholarships (Infographic: The Next Level, Source: James Kozachuk)

TNL Infographic 041: 2017 Q2 eSports Schools With Scholarships (Infographic: The Next Level, Source: James Kozachuk)

Fall 2014: Thirty Robert Morris University students were given scholarships to join the first ever varsity eSports team

Fall 2015: University of Pikeville and Maryville University join the fold

Fall 2016: 6 more universities begin offering scholarships

Fall 2017: At least 27 additional universities will recruit student athletes to play on behalf of their institution.

This brings the current total of announced eSports scholarship programs up to 38 in the US with The Next Level estimating 60 schools by the end of the year.

TNL Infographic 042: US Schools eSports Scholarship Growth (Infographic: The Next Level, Source: James Kozachuk)

TNL Infographic 042: US Schools eSports Scholarship Growth (Infographic: The Next Level, Source: James Kozachuk)

In addition, a number of schools have elevated their student teams to varsity status, although do not currently provide scholarships. These institutions include: Keuka College, Five Towns University, Miami University (Ohio), Principia College, University of South Carolina (Sumter), DigiPen Institute of Technology, Jarvis Christian College, University of Mount Union, Talladega College, and Illinois Wesleyan.

What's fueling the growth?

Regionality and precedence - along with of the crazy investment and allure of eSports across all facets of sports.

TNL Infographic 043: US Schools With Scholarships, Programs, or Courses (Infographic: The Next Level, Source: James Kozachuk)

TNL Infographic 043: US Schools With Scholarships, Programs, or Courses (Infographic: The Next Level, Source: James Kozachuk)

When each university announces their program, their press release typically refers to a local institution that has recently created a similar program. It's the reason why we see such a cluster of eSports programs at schools within the same or neighboring states.



Almost 2/3 of the eSports programs are part of the National Association for Collegiate Esports (Photo: NACE)

Almost 2/3 of the eSports programs are part of the National Association for Collegiate Esports (Photo: NACE)

With so many similar colleges creating programs, there's bound to be a few traits that the majority of them share. In the case of collegiate eSports, that's their traditional athletic governing body.

Robert Morris University in Chicago is not part of the NCAA but they are part of the NAIA, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. So is Pikeville, Kansas Wesleyan, Midland, Columbia College and so on.

So what did the NAIA do?

Well nothing really but what did someone affiliated with the NAIA do?

Create the NAC eSports, or NACE. NACE is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization whose mission is to "promote the education and development of students through intercollegiate eSports participation." 

They're looking to build the NCAA of eSports and they're doing well: two-thirds of the collegiate eSports programs are affiliated with NACE.

You know them, you love them: The NCAA. (Photo: Wikimedia)

You know them, you love them: The NCAA. (Photo: Wikimedia)

What's the NCAA's reaction?

Not much.  

But one of their biggest conferences, the Big Ten Conference, expanded on their partnership with Riot Games to provide scholarships and a competition for eight of their conference schools (Penn State and Nebraska declined to participate).

BTN League of Legends Schedule (Photo: BTN/Riot Games)

BTN League of Legends Schedule (Photo: BTN/Riot Games)

The Big Ten Network's announcement came after another large athletics conference, the Pac-12, announced their intent to add eSports to their roster.

Unfortunately it's been over a year since the Pac-12's announcement last May and no further information has materialized.

University of Utah eSports (Photo: University of Utah)

University of Utah eSports (Photo: University of Utah)

Likely tired of waiting for their conference to integrate eSports, the University of Utah announced their program a few months ago. While the school is known for it's strong athletics program, it also boasts one of the most established game development programs. Funding and support for the UoU eSports scholarships will come from this Entertainment Arts and Engineering program.



University of Utah's Female Gaming Leader (Video: Youtube)

A defining characteristic of eSports is each games' accessibility to any individual that wants to compete. There's amazing organizations like AnyKey out there working with professional players, teams, and leagues out there  and recently they published a white paper on diversity and inclusion in collegiate eSports.

This is critical as the collegiate eSports has an amazing opportunity to really showcase the strength of diversity within our scene. We're now starting to see some institutions build the foundations of that mission.

Stephen's Women's College (Photo: Stephen's College)

Stephen's Women's College (Photo: Stephen's College)

In April 2017, Stephen's College announced the first varsity eSports program at an all-woman's college.

Jarvis Christian College, a Historically Black College (HBC) in Texas, is a member of NACE and will likely be announcing an eSports program soon.

Jarvis Christian College (Photo: Jarvis Christian College)

Jarvis Christian College (Photo: Jarvis Christian College)

Hopefully these two institutions will help set the precedence to keep driving diversity in collegiate eSports forward.



To answer this question, we need to understand the motivations for why colleges would create eSports programs. While many may point to high tuition fees, and bringing in students to their campus, it's much more nuanced than that.

Colleges create programs to engage their students. To have their school represented in a new, growing, and unique field. To be able to bring down students to their amazing facilities (or eSports arena) and have that be the one thing they vividly remember from their trip.

Twitch and CLG Support Collegiate eSports with Southwest Baptist University (Photo: Southwest Baptist University)

Twitch and CLG Support Collegiate eSports with Southwest Baptist University (Photo: Southwest Baptist University)

There are colleges that are doing it really well, such as Southwest Baptist University and Columbia College (Missouri). Between the two of them they've hosted multiple events on their campus, have begun strong high school outreach, and are generally staying engaged with their community.

University of California Irvine is another great example, having run symposiums with both eSports researchers and AnyKey, organizing a woman's summer camp program for high school students aspiring to get involved in eSports, in addition to creating a certificate program for eSports Management.

UCI's eSports Management Certificate (Photo: University of California, Irvine)

UCI's eSports Management Certificate (Photo: University of California, Irvine)

In previous semesters eSports courses have been offered at Lewis University, Miami University (Ohio), and Emerson College but this is one of the first announced certificate or degree program.

Programs that stay involved are the ones we'll see alive and with the strongest legacy ten years from now.

Plus where else can Columbia College defeat Ohio State in sports?

President of Columbia College Talks About Their eSports Program (Video: Youtube)

[Edit: One year ago to the day, I wrote in The Next Level 008 about "The Collegiate eSports Opportunity". The space has clearly seen massive growth in the past year from not only the number of schools providing scholarships, but programs, courses as well as the international opportunity.

Massive thanks to James Kozachuk for doing the ardious, month long due diligence on the Collegiate eSports growth and opportunity. Amazing work] 

Females: The Hidden eSports Audience - Part 2

Females: The Hidden eSports Audience - Part 2

Women In eSports Panel At IEM (Photo: ESL)

TNL Take: In Part 1, we looked at the various ways that Female participation and audience is growing within eSports.

Anykey, a partnership between ESL and Intel, will "create more opportunities and inclusive spaces, whilst advocating for the underrepresented members of competitive communities" like women, minorities and the LGBTQ community.

In Part 2 today, I spoke to 2 Women in Gaming and eSports: Petya Zheleva, founder of SKYLLA, a Counter-Strike tournament series featuring both Men and Women eSports Athletes and ClaudKill, an eSports Athlete and streamer for their thoughts on the space.

Petya Zheleva, Founder of SKYLLA (Photo: Petya Zheleva)


I looked at 8 different eSports research studies over the past year and the average shows almost 25% of the audience are Females – does this number surprise you and why isn’t this more public?  

PZ: The recent reports showed that more than 48% of all gamers are women. However, when we slightly move the focus on eSports and competitive gaming, the figures are drastically different.

Women represent only about 9% of the competitive scene (CS:GO), but since there are no real reports and data for their performance, this small community doesn't have that much of visibility. Information is hard to find and the media coverage for women in competitive gaming is usually poor. 

There are more and more women who are trying to make their way into the competitive gaming, but the process is slow, and it takes time. Same as the lower skilled male teams, the female teams are still trying to catch up with the fast pace of eSports.


Now like most things, once money starts playing a factor, people start to take notice. That 25% figure compares nicely with EA’s stated figure of “25-28%” of their customers are Female. With very basic estimates, if EA made over $4B in 2015 – that’s potentially almost a $1B being spent on EA products by Females – that’s not small. Do you think $ moving into eSports will help drive this further?

PZ: Of course. Funding and sponsorships have always been the main driven force in eSports. In my eyes, the development of the competitive scene depends heavily on sponsorships and on the passion of the gamers.

At the beginning of the eSports era, many companies couldn't find the potential of this industry, because of its small market, but fortunately for all of us, the situation is improving very fast, and we are witnessing the growth of eSports before our eyes. 

In the past 1-2 years, we observed a very rectilinear channeling of resources, and only certain parts of eSports could benefit from the infusion of money in the industry. Hopefully, with the time, things will improve and more companies will begin to support the eSports scene outside of the huge arenas, where the skill level and the exposure might be lower, but the passion and the goals are still the same – to enjoy the favorite game and to win.


One thing that concerns me is the potential “WNBA affect”. Most people don’t know that the majority of WNBA fans are actually Male – about 55%.  Is that a potential issue with female only leagues? 

PZ: Yes, I am afraid that the lack of awareness of women in the competitive eSports scene, which we currently see, will most likely have this effect. There are no official researches and reports about the viewership or the fan base of the competitive female gaming scene, and such details and data are not accessible at all.

This lapse automatically decreases the available information and the amount of potential online content for the female scene (which could be used by many websites and companies), moreover instead of using such data to facilitate and improve the situation, we just wipe it out, because it is “not a big factor” for the global eSports market. 

The other aspect of this problem is that, same as the community members, the companies and organizations interested to find more about women in eSports, are still not able to follow up and to get proper information online. The lack of support by Media companies is a key problem for this niche of gamers, and those who could connect the dots for a better and more diverse online community, are very often the first to neglect the opportunity.


Further, although SKYLLA combines both men and women – the mens teams are “lower ranked”. Does that cause a potential quality argument also? 

PZ: SKYLLA is a grassroots tournament, and one of our main objectives is to provide a stage for up and coming CS:GO teams, regardless of their tier. The high skilled teams are not a target for SKYLLA and have never been.

This is also what makes our project so different. The tournament is not only aiming to improve the skill level of the Female teams, but also to support and provide exposure for lower tier male teams. We saw many talented players performing incredibly well in SKYLLA in the past 7 months, and I am happy that we gave the opportunity to these players and showed them one more reason to be serious about following their goals in eSports.

“Quality” is a relative characteristic and more often than not, we see people having a different spectrum of preferences when it comes to online video content. What is interesting to some is not interesting to others, and vice versa. In eSports we forgot very fast how the first tournaments looked like and about the sweaty internet cafes, where every won game counted as a Major.

We shouldn’t allow the success of some to undermine the progress of others, and it will all happen step by step. Those who are interested in women in the competitive esports will keep following the available games and tournaments online. Our task is to get more people to watch eSports, but give them the freedom to choose what they like, and diversity to pick from.  With a little bit of attention, everything could start working, and things can improve very fast.


What are your long term goals and objectives for Skylla? 

PZ: With the growth of eSports, there will be more and more new players and teams in the CS:GO scene. These new players, same as every other player, will be striving to reach to the top of the rank lists and to become professional players. Our goal at SKYLLA is to act as a proving ground for these new teams, and to create a friendly environment where they could compete, learn and have fun while playing their favorite game.

Me and Tom Lemke founded SKYLLA in March 2016, and for a short period, we also had Hege “Hedge” Botnen on board. Currently I am the operating person behind SKYLLA and everything around the tournament. As a former CS 1.6 professional player, I am carrying my passion for female gaming since I was 18 years old.

During this time, I experienced most of the negative aspects of being a woman in eSports, the bad way, and looking for solutions of the core problems in order to overcome personal challenges, became a natural reaction for me. Many female players endorsed our tournament, and many teams applied to participate in the monthly editions. My hopes are that SKYLLA will manage to secure resources to continue with Season 2 in 2017 and that we will achieve our goals, because there is still much to be done for these upcoming teams and much to be taken from this competition as a result.


One more point with the WNBA, when you look at their sponsor list – while of course all products can be bought by females – it seems very “male heavy” if that’s appropriate (Adidas, Bud Light, etc.) or another way – no major Female forward brand sticks out. As Fortune 500 Brands enter eSports – what’s the one brand you would like to see focused on the women’s eSports space?

PZ: I don't understand why there should be a gender segregation when it comes to companies and sponsors too. All other companies involved in eSports (or not yet) are partly dependent on the eSports community, which is a mixture of all gamers.

There shouldn’t be a difference, unless we speak about specific products, and everyone is welcome to invest in eSports. I am certain that the market, where SKYLLA is at the moment, will become very appealing to bigger brands in the very near future, especially to the companies that have goals to contribute to the growth of the competitive gaming scene in particular, and that could mean that in five years we will be competing over completely different areas in eSports.


eSports Athlete and Streamer ClaudKill (Photo: ClaudKill)


My analysis of 8 Research studies showed that women are now 25% of the eSports audience. Why don’t people know this yet?

CK: I would argue that the female audience is even larger than 25% and that we don’t yet have sufficient evidence to support it. I think the the general public isn’t aware of it, because video games and the industry on its own has largely always been marketed to men and for that reason, the general idea is that it is made up of mostly males.

Additionally, I think the old norm used to be that girls play with dolls and engage with more girly activities, while boys play with trucks and more violent video games, but as we’ve seen, that’s not necessarily true. We also aren’t aware of how many Females are involved in eSports because the interaction is online and people can keep their identity and gender anonymous.

Some women prefer to use gamertags and screen names that would not exclusively label them as a female to avoid the attitudes and harassing comments that they receive from other players online. I know for myself, for the first two years that I played competitively online I used a gamertag that kept my gender anonymous.  I played in lobbies with Males who assumed I was a little boy because of my high pitched voice. It felt better to hide under a guise because I wouldn’t be scrutinized or harassed for being a female and I could continue to enjoy the game like anyone else.


Women unfortunately can’t compete in Football - but they can in Counter-Strike - doesn’t that level the playing ground for “Sports” going forward?

CK: I don’t think it levels the playing field for “Sports” moving forward because it should all around be inclusive, especially in countries that preach gender equality. I think there is less investment in women in rougher Sports because of the argument and concern of viewership and ratings (for example, the WNBA) - which is largely why I think it is harder to get support for women to compete in sports such as Football.

Not to mention the countless criticisms involving the roughness of the sport and whether a Female’s body can out perform that of a Male. Personally, it is harder to remain neutral and comment on women playing rougher sports because I played Rugby at the collegiate level. From my experience, I think women are just as capable. I witnessed it first hand by playing a violent sport that often left my body covered in blood, bruises, and scars. I think leveling the playing field in eSports involves more women playing in teams and tournaments that are not exclusively Female.

Lately, I’ve seen leagues and organizations picking up all Female teams instead of considering co-ed teams. Sure, the league or organization brings attention to these Female players, but they largely only scrim and compete against other Females, which is not helpful. The majority of the teams in open-bracket tournaments are Male, and in order to beat the competition and gain recognition, is to practice playing and competing against the same individuals you will face in an actual all-inclusive tournament.

Lately, I have seen the small addition of some co-ed teams with one or two Female players, and I applaud those teams in eSports because they are making a difference and proving that Female players can easily be as versatile and strong as a Male player. Hopefully soon we will see one make it into the Pro circuit and prove that Female players are just as capable as Males to be Pros.


If you could have one Female focused Brand invest in eSports who would it be? (Mine would be Dove)

CK: Honestly, I would also have to go with Dove for my choice as well. Dove has been a brand that the past couple of years has launched campaigns to empower girls. In my opinion, Dove is the most forward thinking brand right now because of how outspoken they have been in regards to issues of gender relations and sports.

Their #LikeAGirl movement highlighted the ways girls are criticized and treated in sport environments. Additionally, their emoji campaign criticized companies, like Apple, that exclude the image of girls and women in professional roles in their emoji selection(such as doctors, lawyers, engineers, and athletes). As a brand that is fighting to show that girls are capable of anything, if not better than men, I think they would be a great brand to invest in eSports Female audience.


There are now 20+ colleges giving out eSports scholarships. College is expensive. When I spoke to a Mom who had a son go to school and asked “That must be awesome to save some money, she said No. Her son spent 6 years in his room by himself and no one gave him love in high school. Now he gets to wear a Collegiate Sports Jersey and have a group of friends he can relate to. Are young women next?

Most of these eSports scholarships function the same as athletic scholarships, which both Male and Female athletes receive. I think the reason why we don’t see Female players receiving them is because they are not seen as much within the leagues, so they aren’t looked at as a possible investment by these schools. I think the more Females become involved in the eSports scene, and the more successful they become in placing higher at tournaments, the more likely it will be for them to receive eSports scholarships.


Thank you both for your time.

2017 Collegiate eSports Report


Blizzard's College eSports Documentary (Photo: Blizzard)

TNL Take: One of the first major eSports opportunities that I analyzed was the Collegiate space.

In fact, way back in The Next Level 008 in May, I looked at the various verticals in this area.

Just like all aspects of eSports, in the last 5 months this space has grown just as quickly.

I'm going to revisit some of my earlier themes and look and what's happened to College eSports in such a short period.



TNL Infographic 010: Total US Schools With eSports Scholarships (Graphic: The Next Level)

TNL Take: What started with just Robert Morris University in 2014 has now grown to 15 Schools in 2016 that have announced eSports scholarships programs that have either started or in process to begin for the 2017 school year.

The hockey stick like growth correlates almost exactly with the investment of Pro Sports teams within eSports as well.

In May, the total was 9 schools with ~120 Max Scholarships - excuse the horrible original graphic.

Colleges With eSports Scholarships In May 2016 (Graphic: The Next Level 008)

Now look at this change in less than half a year.



15 US Schools Offering eSports Scholarships

15 US Schools Offering eSports Scholarships

TNL Take: Top takeaways from the new data:

  • The total number of schools giving monetary scholarships for eSports has almost doubled from 9 to 15


  • The maximum number of scholarships available has almost tripled from 120 to ~300 (Note: While these scholarships are available, schools will more than likely not fill all the spots due to recruiting issues. Yes, recruiting issues in eSports already.)



TNL Take: You can take the power of the Publishers in eSports and apply it across the board. 

For a long time, just as Publishers let Pro eSports provide them with Free Marketing, the same applied to the Collegiate space.

Now that serious money has entered eSports, those days are over.

Here are two examples of where Publishers have flexed their muscles:


Here's what I said back in May The Next Level 008:

"If I’m Riot, I double-down on this opportunity to work growing this scene even further. From their investment in ULoL, working with colleges directly, and supporting local University Cal Irvine, they seem to be heading in this direction."

I'm hoping that someone at Riot actually listened.

When you're in the Church of Content, the Priest is the Publisher.



Newegg College eSports Sponsorship (Photo: Newegg)

TNL Take: The next massive opportunity within Collegiate eSports is connecting Brands to a core audience of 18-22 year olds; right when they begin to earn money and spend it more freely.

Again in May, I spoke about Robert Morris University leading the Collegiate eSports initiative and where Brands like Quest Nutrition could benefit from this audience.

Guess what happened two months ago?

Quest Nutrition and RMU eSports Partnership (Photo: Quest)

Many more Brands have noticed the Collegiate eSports audience:


TNL eSports Brand Tracker 044 (Photo: Battlefy)

Although I focus on Non-Endemic Brands within eSports, a huge congrats to iBUYPOWER for helping to support the Collegiate eSports efforts.

Not only did they support RMU's initial eSports endeavor, they are also sponsoring the first public US School with an eSports Scholarship program, UC Irvine.

iBUYPOWER UC Irvine eSports Arena (Photo: UC Irvine)



NRG eSports Recruiting Partnership With Gamer Sensei (Photo: Gamer Sensei)

TNL Take: I absolutely believe in the coaching opportunity for eSports - I just haven't solved it yet.  

With the same progression of traditional Sports through Junior Leagues, High School, Colleges and then Professional Leagues, you can see eSports take the same route.

In my May articles, I mentioned both Dojo Madness and Xsolla, training and coaching Apps that help players turn into Athletes.

If a local Tennis or Golf Pro can have clients, eSports can't for the next decade?

It's going to happen somehow.

I'm a big fan of quotes because I believe someone long ago and  a lot smarter than me already succinctly said what I could have.

Albert Szent-Györgyi was a Hungarian American physiologist who won the Nobel Prize in 1937 is credited with discovering vitamin C. He said the following:

"Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and think what nobody has thought.Genius is seeing what everyone else sees and thinking what no one else has thought.

Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.The task is, not so much to see what no one has seen yet; but to think what nobody has thought yet, about what everybody sees."

Pro eSports starts with High Schools and Colleges.


Lets all build it.


Big thanks and huge help from James Kozachuk (@InternallyValid) for his work and dedication to the space. We need more people like James in this space. Someone please hire him....or I will soon.