College Esports Across the United States

Analysis of College Esports in the United States

The rapid growth of Esports (short for “electronic sports”) in the U.S. has been well documented in recent years. With revenues surpassing $1 billion in 2019, and projected by Newzoo to reach over $1.5 billion by 2021*, Esports represents the next generation of sports and entertainment. This new sport has already established itself in the professional realm, and it’s beginning to transition into collegiate athletics, too, including right here at Grand Canyon University.

This is particularly relevant now, as while traditional college sports such as the NCAA tournament and other spring athletics were cancelled as a result of COVID-19, Esports are still going strong in many places across the country, including on the college level. Thanks to the internet and the fact that esports athletes do not need to be in the same physical space on a college campus to compete, esports-both collegiate and otherwise-are thriving in a world without traditional sports. With this in mind, we wanted to see which schools and regions have already adopted this new sport. By pulling data from school websites, social media and direct contact with university representatives, we were able to map out the presence and rise of Esports in the U.S. Check out our findings below!

Map showing the number of active college Esports leagues in the US

This map shows the concentration of collegiate Esports teams around the country. While Esports has seen a massive increase in adoption and integration into university sports, the opportunity for expansion is still massive. As this map shows, despite the fact that there are over 400 Esports programs in the U.S. competing on the intercollegiate level, there are still states that have yet to completely embrace the new sport. With four states (California, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York) accounting for over 25% of the nation’s teams, it seems that we have just begun to see the kind of growth that projects Esports to be a billion-dollar industry by 2021. 

Intercollegiate Esports facts and figures

Collegiate Esports has seen consistent growth over the past decade, but has exploded over the past five years. With an average growth rate below 1% from 2009-2014, Esports has recently seen an exponential increase of collegiate Esports teams, from 4.27% of current programs being established in 2015 to 37.69% in 2019. Both 2018 and 2019 saw over 35% of all presently active programs begin seriously competing against other collegiate programs for the first time, and this expansion shows no signs of slowing down.

Schools that are members of the NCAA make up the highest percentage of collegiate Esports programs, representing over 60% of varsity programs nationally. Most of these schools fall into either Division I or Division II classifications in traditional athletics, but there is also a strong showing from NAIA schools at over 17%. These teams are typically large, averaging just over 35 members each, with participation totaling over 15,000 students across the country, per our estimates.

List of the most popular intercollegiate esports

There are a wide variety of games that are played in collegiate Esports, but a few of them stand above the rest. League of Legends is by far the most popular, with almost 90% of schools that have a varsity team playing it. Overwatch is a close second at 79%, while Rocket League is the only other game being played by over 50% of schools.

These multiplayer strategy games are wildly popular, unlike games based on national sports organizations such as Madden (NFL), NBA 2K and FIFA. Though very popular in their own right, these games typically have one player controlling an entire team, and therefore don’t cater well to collegiate teams focused on multiplayer games.

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Finally, we wanted to take a look at how Esports has grown on the intercollegiate level over time. To do this, we took data on every program where we could confirm the year they began competition and mapped out how many programs were active in each state from 2009 to 2019, which can be seen in the map above. The map defaults to show the number of programs active as of 2019 by state, but clicking on a specific year in the table below will show how many schools were competing in Esports in every state in a given year, which allows us to better visualize the explosion in popularity the sport has experienced in the last decade.

Esports is poised to continue to grow into a major part of the sports world full stop, as there are already millions of fans and viewers around the world who tune in to see elite digital athletes compete for millions of dollars in prize money. As the world of Esports becomes increasingly mainstream, the collegiate game will grow alongside it, with highly skilled Esports teams becoming as common on campus as traditional sports teams. For students looking to jump into the world of intercollegiate Esports, Grand Canyon has a team ready and waiting for you!

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.