Tl;dr: Ask me anything about collegiate esports in the US!

Hi Reddit, I'm Alex, the co-founder of Looking for Group, the first directory of collegiate esports programs and scholarships in the US! We launched last week with over 190 programs listed on our site. Next week, we're adding over $250k in esports-specific scholarship opportunities, and we're just getting started.

I'm here to answer your questions about the rampant growth of collegiate esports in colleges and universities across the country.

For some background, the popularity of collegiate esports has grown exponentially since COVID-19. With many traditional sports on hold and students stuck at home, athletics departments across the country have been turning to esports as a way to bridge the gap. Tons of schools are committing to full-blown varsity esports programs, including massive schools like UC Irvine, University of Utah, and Miami University.

This makes sense, when you think about it. According to Pew, 97% of kids between the ages of 12-17 play video games. Once higher ed organizations started to take that fact seriously, it's been a mad flight to roll out programs.

We got our start in collegiate esports after building a recreational esports program at my business partner's alma mater. That led us to start working with other schools that were trying to build programs of their own.

We had the germ of the idea for Looking for Group after realizing how little accessible, public information there was about collegiate esports for students. (Basically, for a student to learn about a program, they would have to have it already in mind and crawl around on the school's website scrounging for info.)

We knew a lot of the program directors and thought, "Hey! We could get this information together all in one place."

Six months after that initial thought, we released Looking for Group with a large chunk of all the varsity collegiate programs listed on the site, and more joining every day. It's been a crazy/fun experience to launch this resource and try to build a piece of important infrastructure in an emerging field.

So without further ado, I'm here to answer questions. AMA about:

  • Collegiate esports in general
  • What kind of students collegiate esports programs look for
  • How students can find scholarship $ to play video games in college.
  • The most popular title in collegiate esports (psst: it's not what you might guess).
  • The factors driving the adoption of collegiate esports.
  • What it's like to build collegiate esports programs
  • Or anything else!

Thanks!

Proof!

Comments: 50 • Responses: 22  • Date: 

Tuna_Bluefin35 karma

If the purpose is to produce higher calibre players, why bother sending them to a university at all? Surely they'd be better off scrimming and practicing full-time, with all the money saved on tuition fees going to them as a salary?

What's the point of inter-college competitions when there are already established esport leagues that range from amateur to professional?

97% of kids might well play videogames, but you know this number includes mobile games which, for the most part, barely count as videogames to begin with.

To be honest the whole concept of (e)sport-based scholarships is a bit shady. I'm not sure why dedicating your teenage years to one sport/videogame makes you more deserving of a place on an academic course? Couldn't you just use all that money on actually intelligent people who can't afford to go to university, regardless of their ability to quickscope or swing a baseball bat?

MisterMcNeil15 karma

I actually think this gets to a misconception (or an ongoing debate) about the role of the collegiate scene compared to the rest of the amateur-pro pipeline.

The purpose of collegiate esports, according to 99.9% of the collegiate community, isn't to create top-tier players. It's to provide students who deeply care about gaming with access to the same kind of resources and opportunities that would exist for someone who plays sports. There is really no college-pro pipeline. But that may change over time... This article is really great. It basically argues that college esports could eventually provide an important period for tomorrow's pros to go through professional development - much like the role played by collegiate sports programs.

I don't really understand why an esports player would be less deserving of a scholarship than anyone else. Esports athletes are often great students who are deeply involved in their courses... Esports can just be a positive way to channel an existing passion/skill.

Tuna_Bluefin12 karma

I don't really understand why an esports player would be less deserving of a scholarship than anyone else. Esports athletes are often great students who are deeply involved in their courses... Esports can just be a positive way to channel an existing passion/skill.

I never said they're less deserving of places, but if it came to a choice between two similar candidates, how the hell is their videogame of choice a factor? It seems discriminatory against non-esports gamers.

I think I fundamentally misunderstand the hype around university sports in America, so sorry if I just don't get it. Props to you for boosting gaming's legitimacy in universities, though! I'm gonna be so jealous of my kids playing Smash Bros in PE class :)

MisterMcNeil4 karma

No you're good I totally get it. To be honest, I think sports in US institutions have a very functional role in attracting tuition-paying students. So scholarships often aren't a question of who deserves it v who doesn't, but a way to invite a more diverse pool of students to apply and enroll. Think of it as an incentive that has the potential to bring in a new source of students to campus.

Scholarships are, sadly, extremely actuarial. No less true in esports.

Vempyre3 karma

The purpose of collegiate esports, according to 99.9% of the collegiate community, isn't to create top-tier players. It's to provide students who deeply care about gaming with access to the same kind of resources and opportunities that would exist for someone who plays sports.

If this is true, why even have a competitive element to it? Why are scholarships based on competitive play and performance?

MisterMcNeil2 karma

Because competition is fun! That's why I play League of Legends five years later even though I'm stuck in Gold III.

I would ask you the same question about DII sports (baseball for example). Scholarships are still awarded based on ability, even though there's almost no chance that a DII athlete advances even to the minors. But cultivating a skilled, dedicated team that cares about self-improvement and the personal grind is critical. Doesn't matter if you're going to go pro: scholarships help incentivize engagement and interest.

Also, I think the broader student community is more likely to care about a team if it's good. So a well-built, skilled esports team can have positive "externalities" for the entire community.

That isn't to say that you can balance skill and inclusion. You can have both! Check out UC Irvine's program... They have an amazing team but also open up their space for casual play and do all sort of recreational outreach.

legpain4life7 karma

What does the university "get back" in exchange for having a program? Revenue, publicity, interest from students who want to go to a school with an e-spprts team to "cheer" for them? Please provide details, as I am truly curious. What is the appeal to the universities and colleges in having an e-sports team?

I am referring to how the highest revenue is generated from the big sports like Football and Basketball; therefore, those sports are the highest funded and have the nicest facilities.

Former D1 volleyball player here. Thanks for the interesting AMA!

MisterMcNeil8 karma

Thanks!

All of the above. Something I've learned since I started working with schools is that a TON of programs on campus exist because they engage students, which increases enrollment year-to-year (retention). Esports is definitely a genre of program that exists to engage students who might not otherwise have a "home" on campus. There are revenue implications for this, but it's also part of what it means to create a welcoming school community.

There are certainly publicity factors as well. I think a lot of early-adopters experienced an outsized interest which led to a huge enrollment rush. In terms of actual $ earned from ticket sales, etc., esports doesn't leave a mark. But if you're a small liberal arts college with a $32k sticker price and you're able to attract three players per year BECAUSE of your esports team? Well that's almost $400k in four-year tuition revenue from just the first cohort of players.

So, yeah, revenue is a big part but so is inclusivity and just creating something that students love! :)

benspaperclip6 karma

Have any schools in particular blown you away with how much they are investing in this new type of sport?

MisterMcNeil2 karma

Yeah, a lot. So many schools like Full Sail have put a TON of money into it. We talk to schools every day who are considering putting hundreds of thousands of dollars into a program. Some have put millions into their programs.

I'm excited for the day when scholarship $$ catches up to the investments in the facilities. If you want some crazy programs, check out Full Sail's or Miami Ohio. Those are some serious programs!

But really, it makes sense when you think about the investment. Games are SO popular among the new generation of college students. For a ton of schools, esports is a major new initiative for recruiting and retaining students. So it makes sense as an investment (as long as schools have a clear gameplan for advertising the program).

ghostwxrk5 karma

Are these students getting esports scholarships because they want to become professional players or is it more like a college sport?

MisterMcNeil2 karma

It's definitely more like a college sport. There's very little college-pro pipeline. I would say that the most likely "professional" pathway for a student in a collegiate esports program is actually an occupational channel - like going into event production, coaching, or the gaming & esports industry more broadly. There are a ton of new jobs opening up in gaming & esports. It's a massively growing field and a lot of college programs are focusing heavily on setting their students up for these opportunities.

Odd_Transportation124 karma

Doesn't American education have a fundamental problem with student loan/debt? Why not develop a company that actually focuses on developing talent rather than dual track?

This might come across ignorant, though, lulling in young students with the allure of videogames to get into student loans sounds shady. How do you account for market saturation with the influx of millions of students in due time? How do you intend to pay these students, and how do you monetize it? If you're just offering materials for their loans, what makes you qualified?

Perhaps this is European bias and my angle is off. I apologize if so.

MisterMcNeil3 karma

No worries. To be clear, we are not offering loans or anything. We're just creating information. If anything, I see this tool/business as reducing predatory practices.

The reality is that a lot of colleges are adding esports program as a cheap tool for bringing in new students who may have to take on big loans. Our goal is to show students that they have options... Including at schools like two-year community colleges, which are state-supported and super low cost.

I was a community college student myself, so the debt/feasibility issue is super close to my heart. Your question is well-founded. But speaking as a college counselor: Students (and families) want to go to college, they love games, and we're not going to be the ones to tell them not to. We're trying to be the ones who help guide their decision-making and provide them with more resources.

didgeridude25174 karma

Do people reeeally watch esports? I mean, people discuss how popular they are but where in the hell are they? Real sports (where people engage in athletic competition) are all over the place. Where are these esports? And with that being said, why would a college value them to the point that they would award scholarships for playing video games?

MisterMcNeil3 karma

Honestly it's a great question (at least the bit about viewership). There's a great audience for certain pro esport titles - check out twitch or learn more about League of Legends viewership if you're curious.

There ISN'T much of an audience for collegiate esports. I've sort of touched on the reasons schools value esports with scholarship money elsewhere. It partly has to do with incentivizing enrollment and participation, but there are also some seriously competitive, grade-A teams attracting top talent.

I do think that a major challenge for collegiate esports overall is to get the viewers in the "seats," as it were. You need genuine interest to sustain the scene organically.

alexeands3 karma

It seems a bit disingenuous to lead with “earning millions,” while the relationship between collegiate athletics and students is borderline exploitative. Institutions earn billions (collectively), while grossly under-compensating the students who generate that revenue. Whether traditional or esports, students must often still pay the institution to participate, forego opportunities to develop skills outside the program, and are required or coerced not to profit from their image or accept lucrative sponsorships. What are you and your organization doing to protect the interests of the children you aim to recruit?

MisterMcNeil2 karma

Esports isn't governed by the NCAA, so that's one thing to think about. Amateurism standards don't apply - which means students don't have to make the exchange you're describing (signing away rights to name, image, and likeness). Does that change your position at all?

glowstick32 karma

Hi, Im a retired (cough terrible cough) professional counterstrike player.

When I was playing esports in college had been a thing for only a couple of years and at really poor levels.

Have the facilities improved for the players? What are the players talent levels at? Back when I played most college teams were extremely mediocre... To the point they would have people on the team who didn't really understand how to play the game at a competitive level. Has that changed in recent years?

Ie: the Marquette league of legends team had silver players in their starting lineups the last time I looked into it.

MisterMcNeil2 karma

It's definitely changed. Admittedly a ton of schools are coming in with rosters that are fairly low levels. It's a total gamut. That's one of the challenges with collegiate: it's hard to assign schools to competitive itineraries/brackets due to the wide spread in skill from team to team.

But check out schools like UCI and their scholarship criteria: "Must be at least high Diamond (League of Legends) or Grandmaster (Overwatch)"

So of course UCI is one of the best/best-funded schools, but average skill is definitely increasing generally as well.

Canvasch2 karma

Is this going to be like normal college sports where they make a whole lot of money for the university but the students don't make any money?

MisterMcNeil2 karma

Actually, I don't think so. The collegiate community overall is super against "amateurism," which is the NCAA's policy on student earnings, and the NCAA's position on Name, Image, and Likeness has begun to change in the last couple of months.

My prediction is that, if the NCAA ever does govern esports, it'll be in a world where students have much more power and earning potential as student athletes.

Mikimao2 karma

How does one go about becoming a coach of an esports team? I'm 15 years a professional sports coach and long past the desire to compete myself, but would enjoy a role in helping the next gen attain their goals.

MisterMcNeil2 karma

One of our partners is NAECAD, the National Association of Esports Coaches and Directors. They offer training for aspiring coaches. You should definitely get in contact with them if you're interested in getting involved.

Send me a private message and I'd be happy to talk and point you in the right direction.

Sajomir2 karma

I'm so jealous of college kids these days. I would have killed for opportunities like this when I was in school.

Semi-serous question. Do you ever see involvement from non-traditional students? Like adults returning to school? Unlike traditional sports, esports wouldn't require them to be in peak physical condition to keep up with the younger generation.

MisterMcNeil5 karma

Yeah brother. Same here. My partner and I talk about that all the time.

We do see some involvement, but it kind of depends on the institution. There's obviously some sampling bias there.... Like the population on non-traditional students at liberal arts colleges tends to be pretty small.

BUT: the NJCAAE is one of our partners and a league of schools composed only of two-year schools. Check them out: https://generationesports.com/njcaae

Adults can definitely hang, especially at collegiate levels. You should poke around on our site and see if you can find a school near you, if you're interested. We're going to be adding a bunch of two-year schools this month so keep a heads up for that.

Dirkalurkastan2 karma

How a non profit school gonna run a for profit esports league?

MisterMcNeil2 karma

What do you mean exactly?

Veskerth2 karma

Do you like what title 9 does for guys sports?

MisterMcNeil2 karma

I think there are a lot of Title IX issues. What element of it specifically?

chsavage2 karma

What is the most popular title in collegiate esports today, and how many titles should a student esports athlete expect to be proficient in, in order to compete?

MisterMcNeil4 karma

It depends on whether you're talking student popularity or community popularity.

The most popular title to students is... Drumroll... Super Smash Brothers (Ultimate, but Melee is up there, too). It was really wild to discover this. Part of what we've done is worked with a ton of schools to survey their students about game choice (among other things). We definitely expected League or Fortnite or even OW to be top... But nope, it's SSB every time. And not by just a little bit - sometimes by 2x or 3x the next-most-popular title.

If you're looking at the title most popularly played by college teams, it's definitely League. There are by far the most League teams.

As far as proficiency goes, a student should only need to be really skilled in one title in order to earn a slot at a program. You have the best chance of being recruited if you're in the 1% for a single title, so focus on that! :)

LimeeSdaa2 karma

Hello! Have you seen any Super Smash Bros. collegiate esports (or any fighting game for that matter), or not as much since it’s not a team game? I founded a SSB student org and it would have been great to propel it to the next level.

What about other console esports such as Halo or Call of Duty? Are these titles all overshadowed by PC FPS?

MisterMcNeil2 karma

Yeah! Not to plug our own thing, but use our directory to look up whatever titles you want: https://lfgroup.gg/ :)

There's definitely a COD scene. Halo... Not so much. But we'll see if the new Xbox changes things.

[deleted]1 karma

[deleted]

MisterMcNeil3 karma

Done.

MisterMcNeil2 karma

Yeah! One sec.

baneeee1 karma

I’ve watched a lot of esports but never really at the collegiate level. What kind of scholarship money are these kids making? Full ride?

MisterMcNeil1 karma

For some students, yes. :0

But that's not the norm. Typical scholarship amounts usually hover between $1,500-8,000 per year.

I think we'll see scholarship dollars increase across the board as more big schools adopt programs. Right now a lot of smaller schools are leading the charge. When the big dogs get in we'll see bigger scholarship packages.

tabeatz1 karma

What games are there scholarships for? I used to play a lot of heroes of the storm.... lol any heroes love?

MisterMcNeil2 karma

Ah! Heroes! The silent majority...

No, unfortunately there isn't much action for HOTS these days - at least not when it comes to scholarships. Most scholarships are for titles you would expect: Rocket League, Overwatch, League of Legends... Increasingly Valorant. We're seeing Super Smash scholarships growing in popularity.

Occasionally schools will add a scholarship for a one-off title that doesn't have much general popularity. But in those cases it has more to do with supporting particular pockets of students on campus who care about a game title.

Aurora-girl1231 karma

What's the most interesting thing about creating college esports programs?

MisterMcNeil1 karma

Mmmmm, probably getting the chance to work with administrators to create something *entirely new* on campus. This kind of opportunity rarely comes along in higher ed and it's usually something that people relish and get super excited about.