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Popularity of esports increasing among colleges

EagleTech Contributed Column

By Sarah Bran
On February 8, 2019

 Previous generations might fondly recall Saturdays spent at the baseball game, crunching Cracker Jack under the bright lights. While traditional sports remain an essential American pastime, a different type of game is rapidly emerging onto the digital playing field. 

Esports (electronic sports or online gaming) is a form of organized competition using video games. Individuals not familiar with the industry would be shocked with the magnitude and scope that this sport has grown into in recent times. In 2017 alone, the amount of eSports viewers reached over 143 million. This number is projected to reach a staggering 250 million in 2021, according to

Due to the popularity of esports increasing exponentially over the past decade, many colleges are now offering scholarships for esport players to join their varsity teams. 

In 2014, Robert Morris University in Illinois made history as the first school to offer scholarships for their League of Legends team, effectively kicking off the start of varsity collegiate esports and a whole new era of athletes. 

A mere two years later, the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) was founded as a type of governing body for the various institutions. 

Now, over 80 schools across the country are official members of the NACE, with 1,500+ student athletes, according to

As the popularity of esports continues to grow, so does its similarities to and respective treatment as a full-fledged collegiate and professional sport. Several schools, such as Harrisburg University, offer full academic scholarships to its esports players, along with coaching, equipment, jerseys and more, as stated on Since players are often majoring in STEM or computer science fields, a varsity esports program provides an attractive and natural draw for students when they’re considering schools to attend.

While many small colleges cannot compete with large universities on the football field or basketball court, esports provides a venue where lesser known schools can have their shot at fame (and boost enrollment numbers). It’s therefore little surprise that the majority of the NACE’s 80 plus schools are relatively smal, according to Edtech Magazine. 

Esports is an inexpensive sport to start on campus, though multiple institutions have created state-of-the-art spaces for the competing athletes. Iowa is currently home to six NACE recognized schools with competitive gaming programs: Grand View University, Morningside College, St. Ambrose University, Hawkeye Community College, Iowa Central Community College, and Upper Iowa University, according to

With the ongoing shifts in technology and gaming, both traditional and non-traditional sports continue to evolve. A 21st Century “Saturday night game under the bright lights” can just as easily refer to a esports arena competition or your local baseball team. 

Even the term ‘athlete’ has expanded in meaning to encompass a whole new sector of individuals, allowing them multiple opportunities to have their turn in the spotlight. Just don’t forget the Cracker Jack.


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