Most parents dismiss videogames as a mind-dulling distraction from their kids’ studies. Little do they know all that buttonmashing could translate into a fat college fund. Over the past five years, esports have grown into an estimated $906 million industry, with recruiters, coaches, and dedicated arenas. Nearly 200 US colleges are offering around $15 million per year in scholarships for the esports elite, and university teams can earn millions more in tournament prizes. Unsurprisingly, Silicon Valley is getting in on the market: PlayVS, a startup that organizes high school esports leagues, has raised $46 million from investors like Diddy and Adidas. Game recognize game.
1. Pay for Play
The average esports scholarship student receives $4,800 in tuition awards a year, according to the National Association of Collegiate Esports—but some can receive up to half off tuition.
2. The Esports Explosion
In 2013, videogame developer Blizzard Entertainment partnered with Tespa, an official collegiate league for titles including Overwatch , Hearthstone , and StarCraft . Tespa has since grown to around 850 schools (nearly 20,000 players) and has awarded students more than $3 million in tournament winnings.
3. New Recruits
Though Fortnite is the most played game among high schoolers by far, League of Legends and Overwatch are the most popular titles for collegiate esports teams. Both LoL and Overwatch have official college leagues sanctioned by the videogames’ publishers.
4. Go Long
Among college students, 51 percent think being an esports athlete is a viable career option. They may be onto something: The 2018 League of Legends World Championship attracted more viewers than the Super Bowl and the NCAA Final Four combined.
5. No Pain, No Gain
Collegiate esports players practice an average of four hours a day, according to a recent survey of gamers at five universities. While they’re considerably less active than traditional athletes—24 percent of gamers surveyed reported that they don’t do any form of exercise—competitive gamers are nonetheless prone to certain niche ailments.
By the Numbers
- 180 : Beats per minute a gamer's heart rate can reach during play
- 400 : Approximate number of movements an esports athlete conducts per minute while gaming
- 150 : Milliseconds slower Starcraft players in their thirties react, compared with players in their twenties
- $32,000 : The average cost of starting a college esports program
- 1972 : Stanford students host the first known collegiate videogame tournament for the combat game Spacewar! First prize is a year’s subscription to Rolling Stone .
- 2009 : The Collegiate Starleague launches its inaugural StarCraft tournament with 25 participating schools.
- 2014 : Robert Morris University in Chicago is the first US university to offer League of Legends scholarships.
- 2016 : UC Irvine founds a varsity esports program—with a 3,500-square-foot gaming arena.
- 2017 : Two years after introducing its esports scholarship program, Maryville University in St. Louis wins the League of Legends College Championship. More than 26,000 people have watched the victory on YouTube.
- Jan 2018 : Riot Games announces nearly $500,000 in scholarships for students attending Big Ten colleges.
- Oct 2018 : Full Sail University in Florida unveils plans for a $6 million, 11,200-square-foot esports facility.
Rebecca Heilweil (@rebeccaheilweil) is a WIRED editorial fellow .
This article appears in the February issue. Subscribe now.
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