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College Esports: 7 Pioneering Programs In The Collegiate Gaming World

Dave Royse

Oakland University in Michigan recently announced it will launch a varsity esports program next fall, investing $100,000 into the program, which will offer partial scholarships to student gamers.

The team will play “Super Smash Bros.,” “Rocket League” and “League of Legends,” the school said during a press conference. The school will also partner with professional esports team, Team Renegades, in a mentoring arrangement for the first 12 student gamers in the fall.

Oakland University is just the latest to officially sanction esports as an intercollegiate competitive program, joining more than 150 other schools that are members of the National Association of Collegiate Esports and about 170 that have varsity esports programs.

Here’s a look at some of the pioneering programs in collegiate esports. As mentioned above, there are more than hundred schools with programs, and some really good ones aren't mentioned here. But these are a few that stand out in this still new phenomenon.

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Robert Morris

This school in Chicago is the true pioneer of esports, usually getting the credit for starting the whole thing at the collegiate level when it announced scholarships for "League of Legends" players back in 2014.

Robert Morris also finished atop a recent list of Top 20 colleges for "League of Legends" players compiled by OnlineCollegePlan.com that used tournament scores and scholarships among other factors to make its rankings.

Maryville University

This small school near St. Louis is proud that it's frequently mentioned among the powerhouses in the new world of college esports. It was an early offerer of scholarships, one of six founding members of the National Association of Collegiate Esports, won its first national "League of Legends" title in 2016 with a 40-0 record and a second crown in 2017. And won again in 2019.

The team recently competed against universities from around the world in an international championship tournament in China. Professional gamer Dan Clerke is their coach. Oh, and they seem to claim they have the most wins.

Mizzou

The University of Missouri was the NACE's fall 2019 "Rocket League" championship in its inaugural season.

Like their non-esports counterparts, some college esports teams have their own apparel.

Columbia College

What is it about Columbia, Missouri, that makes for good esports players? Just up the road from Mizzou, in the same town, the Columbia College Cougars are making a name for themselves in esports, having finished last spring as the top team in the ESPN "League of Legends" coaches poll.

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UC-Irvine

UC-I should make any list of great teams in any sport simply because their mascot is an anteater named Peter. But the Anteaters also have a strong esports tradition, offering scholarships in "League of Legends" and "Overwatch." The school, which was one of the first public universities to offer esports, says more than 70% of its students participate in some form of gaming.

Utah

Utah created the first college-sponsored varsity esports program at a Power Five athletics conference school, and some people there call it "GamerU." The team plays "Hearthstone," "Rocket League" and "League of Legends."

But while Utah's teams are good, it may be known as GamerU more for the academic side of gaming. The school's Entertainment Arts and Engineering Master Games Studio, or EAE, was a pioneering undergraduate and graduate program in making games, and is known as one of the best.

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