Colleges award esports scholarships as gaming’s popularity hits a high score

As esports become increasingly popular, universities are creating varsity video-gaming programs to develop the next generation of gamers (and boost dwindling attendance numbers).

April 25, 2018

Ashland University expanded its esports scholarship program to include Fortnite — a post-apocalyptic video game where teams compete to survive longest by killing zombies.

The Ohio school is one of 65 members of the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) that fields gaming squads — attracting students who dream of one day making the big bucks by going pro with their joysticks (some pro gamers earn as much as $3.58m). 

Colleges use gaming’s popularity to recruit students

Pro esports spawned $756m in 2017 revenue — and is expected to bring in $1B this year. So at a time when 35% of gamers say they’d drop everything to go pro, colleges struggling to attract students — particularly men — hope to attract starry-eyed gamers with collegiate gaming teams.

At UC Irvine, varsity gamers compete in a 3,500-square-foot arena decked with 72 gaming monitors, gear, and customized chairs. At Robert Morris University, the Eagles receive scholarships for up to half the cost of tuition, the best gaming hardware, and sweet uniforms. 

Gotta have a backup plan… 

Like other pro sports, only the top esports players make it — in 2016 there were 13,555 ‘pro’ gamers and an even smaller number who could support themselves entirely on their winnings.

As the owners of the Patriots and the Rams buy esports franchises for $20m and drive the global audience toward 590m, Ashland students will continue to compete with other collegiate gamers to achieve their digital dreams — now, in 5 different video games.

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