Esports Scholarships: How They Work and How to Apply
Esports scholarships are real. It goes to show you how far we’ve come. I remember the days when video games were played exclusively for leisure. Now they can get you a full ride to college.
Over 80 colleges in the US now offer scholarships for competitive gaming. According to Michael Brooks, the executive director of the National Association of College Esports, the number of post-secondary schools offering scholarships has expanded upwards of 5X of what it was in 2017. Esports is beaming with potential and colleges want in.
If you’re a competitive gamer interested in representing a school while also getting an education, now is your time. However, because only 3% of US colleges offer esports scholarships, there will be a long line of applicants trying to secure one of these coveted spots.
Because esports scholarships are so new, many colleges are experimenting with ways to recruit and build their esports teams.
Types of Esports Scholarships
Esports scholarships are brand new. As a result, colleges are still exploring the best ways to award them. In general, there are three kinds of esports scholarships: partial, full-tuition, and full-ride.
A partial scholarship is one that pays anywhere for 5-75% of a school’s tuition. Percentages vary based on the school and circumstances (merit, background, and the primary game played) of each applicant. Partials are the most common type of esports scholarship, but that may be changing.
A full-tuition scholarship pays for all four years of tuition, but no additional college expenses like books or room and board. The number of full-tuition scholarships offered is increasing and will probably become a mainstay as esports becomes more lucrative.
A full-ride scholarship pays for all four years of tuition, including all additional college expenses. This is the jackpot of all esports scholarships, but very few schools offer them. However, just like with full tuition scholarships, as colleges continue to develop and build infrastructure around esports, full rides should become more common.
Another thing to keep in mind is that depending on the college, there may be certain requirements or conditions for you to keep your scholarship. The most common requirement is academic — with some colleges requiring you to maintain a particular GPA. Other conditions may be performance based. Even esports scholarships can be stripped away if you get into trouble.
How to Apply
Applying for scholarships of any kind can be tedious, and esports scholarships are no different. Colleges like University of California, Irvine and the University of Utah are two examples of major universities who offer esports scholarships, but the bulk of esports friendly colleges are smaller and less known.
Step 1: Scour the Internet
Because esports are still new departments, haven’t had the time to promote themselves. If you’re lucky, the college will have information explaining the application process on their website.
Before looking at colleges, you should visit the National Association of College Esports (NACE) website which contains a directory of colleges with esports programs. 94% of colleges offering esports scholarships are members of the NACE.
If a college isn’t listed on the NACE website, the next step would be to check individual colleges. Unfortunately, many of these websites haven’t been updated, so the next best thing is to check their other platforms, including their social media. A school’s social media — primarily Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter —could contain information or special announcements related to esports.
If you believe a college offers esports scholarships but can’t find any information, contact the admissions/financial aid office and they should be able to give you the answer. The next step is to get an application, either online or through a representative of the college.
Step 2: The Application
Once you’ve confirmed that a college offers esports scholarships, the next step is to fill out an application. Applications vary, but they usually ask for your name, age, GPA, in-game name, the titles you play, VODs (Videos On Demand), and sometimes even your KDA (Kill Death Average).
VODs or Videos on Demand, are recordings of a player’s screen. Colleges use VODs as a resume reel, analyzing what kind of player you are and how you interact with others. VODs used to be optional, but now they may be the most critical part of the application process.
Many colleges only award esports scholarships to those who have already been accepted to the institution. In this case, you’d have to have already committed as a student before even thinking about applying for an esports scholarship. That shows the college the applicant wants an education and isn’t just interested in competitive gaming.
Step 3: Interviews and Tryouts
If the college is interested in adding you to their esports team, most will want to conduct an interview and tryout. At this point they know you’re a good player, now they want to see if you’re a good fit.
The interview is usually with representatives of the esports department. They ultimately want to know whether or not you’re a good fit with the current members of the team, but they also want to see what motivates you and how serious you are about your education.
The tryout, which is usually conducted online rather than on-campus, is a test of your abilities, but more specifically, a test of your ability to communicate and work effectively in a team. A tryout ordinarily consists of an applicant playing with current members of the school’s esports team. Sure, you can be a great player individually, but the tryout gauges if your style of play is conducive with current members of the team.
The tryout is the last step. After that, it’s out of your hands.
How to Stand Out
It’s true that scholarships are primarily awarded based on player skill, academics, the ability to communicate, and the number of openings available. That said, there are ways you can stand out. Most have to do with your VODs.
Show Your Personality
VODs are much more than evidence of your skill — they’re a way to express yourself. Colleges are looking for team players.
Many competitive gamers have a reputation for being toxic to both enemies and friends. In collegiate esports, colleges want applicants that get along with everyone and represent the institution well, whether online or at competitions.
What else about your personality bleeds into your competitive play? Do you uplift teammates? Do you follow instruction? Are you assertive?
What’s most important is that you be yourself and let your personality shine.
Possess a Deeper Understanding of Your Game
In most successful esports teams, each member provides a unique insight into the game and (with the help of their teammates) come up with competitive strategies. VODs provide colleges a window into how you see the game. Your commentary should reflect a deep knowledge of the game, while also providing a unique perspective.
VODs sharing your thought process are especially valuable as its essential for team collaboration. After all, team members must be able to express themselves clearly.
Differentiate yourself any way possible
There are many gamers worthy of a scholarship, but how are you different than them? Are your skills versatile and well rounded? Do you use wild tactics? Your VODs shouldn’t look like everyone else’s. Take risks and be memorable.
Now you’re fully equipped to find and secure an esports scholarship. If you’re a young, competitive gamer, this is your chance to do what you love while getting your education. Meanwhile, older graduates can only look back and wonder how life could have been.