Universities offering scholarships to build successful esports programs

The GCU Esports Arena is often filled with students and is an attractive recruiting tool. (Photo by Susan Wong/Cronkite News)
The GCU Esports Arena is often filled with students and is an attractive recruiting tool. (Photo by Susan Wong/Cronkite News)
Create Your Own Dragonlance D&D Adventures @ Dungeon Masters Guild

PHOENIX – Collegiate sports are going digital.

In 2014, when Robert Morris University Illinois became the first school to offer esports scholarships, it was perceived as an anomaly.

It wasn’t. In 2016, University of California, Irvine became the first public research university to offer gaming scholarships. Five years later, 175 colleges and universities are members of the National Association of Collegiate Esports and offer officially recognized varsity esports programs, according to a study by Next College Student Athlete.

Grand Canyon University added its name to the list in 2018 and now has three full-time employees along with coaches for its five teams.

How are players recruited for esports scholarships? Abel “VectorForce” Aguilera, a second-year GCU varsity member, said it is quite simple.

“Tryouts are communicated through Discord, and you play against everybody else who wants to be on the team, and the coach determines the best players for the team,” he said.

GCU League of Legends players have their own lockers. (Photo by Susan Wong/Cronkite News)
GCU League of Legends players have their own lockers. (Photo by Susan Wong/Cronkite News)

After several tryout rounds, the players selected for the varsity rosters are rewarded with $2,500 to apply toward tuition. They receive free merchandise including shirts, HyperX gear (headset, keyboard and mouse) and jerseys to wear on game day. They also enjoy a dedicated play space for practice, scrimmages and matches.

More and more schools are looking at esports scholarships as a means to attract students.

In 2017, Utah became the first Power Five school to offer scholarships, and players compete in League of Legends, Overwatch and Rocket League. A year later, Harrisburg University in Pennsylvania awarded full-ride scholarships to its entire 16-player roster.

And last fall, West Virginia University offered a 15-credit minor in esports to accompany the launch of an esports team.

Luke “Spech” Lenthall, a second-year varsity player at GCU, never pictured himself as a collegiate athlete. His video game experience up until a year and a half ago was mostly just playing with friends. It was not until he started paying closer attention that it became clear to him that gaming could help his future.

“I guess a year and a half ago, I started to actually kind of take it more seriously,” he said. “Not like I was really focused on playing competitively, but I just wanted to win more than before. I kind of just naturally progressed into getting good enough to play competitively.”

The transition to GCU athlete requires an appreciation of time management. Freshman Josiah “AMID” Wilson is taking the varsity role in stride and adapting to his new team.

“It’s just a shift in why I am playing,” Wilson said. “It’s not only for fun now. The only big change is just with the games and practices being in the evenings. I am not staying up as late as I typically would. It’s just a shift from doing my work earlier in the day now instead of in the afternoons.”

Unlike sports such as football, which has 60-plus players on a roster, the GCU League of Legends team has only seven. The small number comes with advantages, said Mike “H2Aqua” Reed, a second-year varsity player at GCU.

“I think having a small team is beneficial for a lot of conversations that dive deeper in the game,” he said. “And I think you’re allowed to get around everyone’s points while still diving into analysis and finding the best solution to a certain problem that you might have on communication or game theory.”

The environment enables a stronger connection that not only shows up at practices but also in games. Considering the team’s strong start, communication is paying off.

So is offering scholarships.

For more stories from Cronkite News, visit cronkitenews.azpbs.org.

Subscribe for free updates!

Newsletters

View previous campaigns.

Powered by MailChimp

Nerdvana Media will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing. Please let us know all the ways you would like to hear from us:

You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or by contacting us at news@nerdvanamedia.com. We will treat your information with respect. For more information about our privacy practices please visit our website. By clicking below, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.

Samurai Comics

Events

Arizona Renaissance Festival
4 Feb 23
Gold Canyon
Arizona Renaissance Festival
5 Feb 23
Gold Canyon
Arizona Renaissance Festival
11 Feb 23
Gold Canyon
Arizona Renaissance Festival
12 Feb 23
Gold Canyon
Arizona Renaissance Festival
18 Feb 23
Gold Canyon