In 2014, Robert Morris University in Chicago led the way in esports growth by forming the first varsity esports program, with thirty students receiving scholarships. Now in 2017, there are over 60 schools in North America participating in esports. These scholarships range anywhere from $2,000 a year to full tuition plus room and board. In the 2016-17 academic school year, there was over $7 million in scholarships awarded to students participating in esports programs.

Why is there such a strong growth in collegiate esports? Universities are looking for unique pipelines to increase enrollment and offer more outlets for their students to become engaged on campus.

Minimal cost commitment

“Universities are looking for unique pipelines to increase enrollment and offer more outlets for their students to become engaged on campus.”

Another leading reason for the push with collegiate esports is that it has one of the highest returns on investment when it comes to attracting students. With such a low startup cost —$50,000 on average — schools can expect to get their investment back in little to no time at all. Not only is the low-cost initial investment appealing to school administration, but the maintenance cost remains minimal, too. Nearly 90 percent of collegiate esports competition is held at the competing team’s campus — in an online setting. This means that there is no travel or rooming costs for teams, which takes up about 70 percent of traditional athletics budgets.

Inclusive recruitment

Another reason that we are seeing so much growth over the country for esports is due to the diversity of recruitment. If a school starts a new wrestling program, you only have room for about 10 to 15 wrestlers. When you recruit esports players, you have room for 10 to 15 players for a variety of games, including but not limited to League of Legends, Overwatch, Hearthstone and Rocket League.

Rober Morris University currently competes in seven esports games and has about 90 active members in their esports program. Believe it or not, this is still the very beginning stages of collegiate esports — and it’s already huge. Varsity esports has exploded in growth in the last two years, and it shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.