What are Esports?
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People have been playing video games competitively since Pong. What separates an esport from a basement game of Mario Party is organization and, often, prize support. Esports are very much like traditional sports: they're played at the amateur, collegiate, and professional levels, and the very best play their chosen game for a living.
Top esports games
While there are leagues and competitions for all sorts of games, the esports scene is dominated by:
Multiplayer online battle arenas
League of Legends
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Magic: The Gathering
Real-time strategy games
Battle royale games
Super Smash Bros.
Esports are traditionally tournament-focused. Events like the fighting game focused Evolution Championship Series, the twice-yearly Counter-Strike major tournaments, and Fortnite’s World Cup are esports fixtures. Dota 2’s annual International tournament is particularly iconic, in no small part thanks to its massive prize (the 2021 iteration has an eye-popping $40,018,195 prize pool on the line).
There are more American-style franchised leagues as well, with Riot Games' League Championship Series, Blizzard Entertainment's Overwatch League, and Activision's Call of Duty League chief among them. And where there are franchised sports, college sports are bound to follow.
Colleges with esports
Yes, collegiate esports are very much a thing. While they've been around in some form since the late 2000s, the first Division 1 esports college was established by Ohio's Miami University in 2015. As of 2019, there are now over 130 college varsity esports programs.
The biggest college esport is League of Legends. The college esports league is organized by developer Riot through the Riot Scholastic Association of America, which runs the College League of Legends league in North America. Collegiate LoL isn’t limited to the United States though. Riot hosts the International College Cup each year, featuring the champions of domestic collegiate esports leagues across the world.
Blizzard Entertainment (and their parent company, Activision) also support collegiate leagues for Overwatch, Hearthstone, and Call of Duty. Independent associations like the National Association of College Esports and PlayVS support collegiate leagues for games like Fortnite and Counter-Strike that lack official, developer-run leagues.
In traditional sports, playing in college is often an essential part of turning pro. The same can't be said for college esports. While some collegiate programs do turn out pro players, the best esports players often start young and turn pro before even enrolling in school. Still, varsity esports teams offer a chance for gamers to experience high-level competition, as well as scholarships and programs paired with degrees in computer science and game development.
Best esports colleges
In terms of raw results, it’s hard to beat Maryville University. They’ve won the CLOL championship three times (and finished second in 2021), and have placed well in the Overwatch Collegiate Cup, with a win in 2020 and top-four finishes in 2019 and 2018. Harrisburg University are the kings of Overwatch, winning the title in 2018 and 2019. Schools like the University of California, Irvine, and Roosevelt University in Chicago also have strong esports teams. And while they haven’t won any championships in the past few years, the Miami University esports program is still one of the best in the world.
Many traditional sports powerhouses have strong esports teams. Arizona State, Purdue, Michigan State, and Georgia State all host advanced esports programs. All told, there are a lot of options to look at if collegiate esports is something you're interested in.
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