Video games have come a very long way in a relatively short time. Gone are the days when a screen and a controller were confined to the home or dorm. Now, competitive esports is both a huge business and a viable career path for students.

Your school's varsity teams might be dominating the field, court, or rink, but how about the screen? College and university esports is not only on the rise, it's exploding through the roof. Are you doing enough to market your school's esports program?

Esports are organized multiplayer competitions involving video games, where players compete individually or as a team.

And, with its increasing popularity, many colleges and universities are placing esports on the same marketing, recruitment, and funding playing field as their traditional athletic programs.

The National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), the largest non-profit membership association in the US that's working towards advancing varsity collegiate esports, currently lists more than 240 member schools and more than 5,000 esport student athletes.

And the thirst for recreational and varsity esports in colleges and universities is only going to rise.

For example, The University of Utah, branding itself "Gamer U", regularly sees hundreds of students vying for only a few dozen spots on its varsity esports teams.

So it's time to step up your game.

Is your school making the most of this opportunity to highlight student life benefits at your college or university?

Here's how to market and promote your varsity and recreational esports programs and help your recruitment efforts.

marketing esports for universities and colleges-video

The University of Utah, the first Power Five school with a varsity esports team, uses a retro-game video to explain the genesis and reasons behind their esports program

1. Highlight your gear and facilities

Just like athletic varsity programs place emphasis on their on-campus gyms, coaching staff, and playing fields/arenas, esports are no different.

All of these things are equally important to students looking to enter esports—perhaps even more so.

Gamers know their gear and they know them very well. Schools can use a video or the landing page of their esports program to showcase:

  • Facilities: Gaming arena; training areas; hangout and lounge spaces; and meeting, conference, and VOD review rooms.
  • Equipment: Gaming computers and consoles, screen types and resolutions, gaming chairs, keyboards and controllers, video and audio cards, and headsets.
  • Coaching staff: Experience and background of the program's coaching and advisory personnel.
  • Gaming options: Range of computer- and console-based game titles.
  • Extras: Student-led gaming Discord servers, gaming spaces for non-varsity recreational/club players, open houses, gaming retreats, and summer camps for students (and prospective students!) looking to get into esports.

For example, Southern New Hampshire University's (SNHU) esports arena boasts not only state-of-the-art gaming computers and consoles but is also a large multi-space facility where varsity and community players can hang out or hone their craft.

SNHU’s state-of-the-art esports arena, with dedicated spaces for the main gaming area

This video gives viewers a tour of SNHU's state-of-the-art esports arena, 
with dedicated spaces for the main gaming area, multiple spectator lounges, 
a commentators' desk, a video-on-demand (VOD) review room, and a 'Console Cave' hangout

Shenandoah University provides a 360°, user-controlled virtual tour of its 1,571 sq. ft. esports arena

Shenandoah University provides a 360°, user-controlled virtual tour of its 1,571 sq. ft.
 esports arena. You can navigate different spaces—gaming arena, broadcast booth, production room—in floor plan and dollhouse views

2. Smash misconceptions, especially with parents

This strategy is as much for students interested in esports as their parents—some of whom might have antiquated or negative views of video games.

Given the somewhat novel idea of professional video gaming, parents should be made aware that esports is big business and can be a launching pad to a wide array of related fields of study, degrees, and professions.

Most colleges and universities with esports programs even offer financial aid and scholarships to esports students. The problem is that parents don't know this.

For instance, when Dan Clerke, the director of Maryville University's esports program, would call parents to inform them that the school's offering their children a scholarship to play video games, the majority of parents thought it was a scam.

According to NACE, esports scholarships awarded by schools totaled $2.5M nationally during the 2015/16 academic year. By 2019, that amount ballooned to $15M, a 600% increase.

While the average esports scholarship student receives $4,800 in tuition awards per year, some can receive up to half off their tuition.

marketing esports for universities and colleges-parents

This video by Maryville University perfectly illustrates how parents' reluctance and negative perceptions about video games can be transformed into enthusiastic cheering, with their kid's player nickname and team name on T-shirts and signs, after learning about the validity of esports

3. Promote inclusion in esports

Gaming is often seen as a male-dominated activity: according to a collaborative report by IDC and Esports Charts, approximately 72% of esports viewers in the US is male. However, 52% of video game players are female.

Women are underrepresented in the esports scene, but not for lack of interest.

Universities have a great opportunity to speak to women participating in recreational gaming who might not have considered it as a potential competitive or career path in university.

Esports also opens up opportunities for inclusive accessibility, which is a critical challenge facing universities, through accommodations and adaptive technologies.

Able gamers marketing esports for universities and colleges

Organizations like The Able Gamers Foundation promote accessibility in gaming and combat social isolation

The University of California, Irvine, the first public university to offer an esports program, has made inclusion a vital component of its esports initiatives to ensure women and minorities don't face discrimination.

UC Irvine established its Diversity and Inclusion in Esports Task Force in 2017 to tackle the issues of diversity and inclusion within its esports program.

The task force created the UCI Esports Inclusivity Plan to ensure a safe and inclusive esports environment.

UC Irvine marketing esports for universities and colleges

UC Irvine teamed up with Riot Games to host an annual "Girls in Gaming" summer camp for girls aged 13-18 interested in pursuing esports or a career in gaming

4. Cross-promote with STEM and degrees

The days of "video games will rot your brain and ruin your eyes" are gone.Now, video games and varsity esports are big business and big opportunities for students and universities.

Schools should highlight all of the gaming and non-gaming related doors that their esports program can open up for students.

Students can leverage their love of gaming into related fields, such as game/software development and design, artificial intelligence, robotics, marketing and sales, and broadcasting and media relations.

There's no shortage of colleges and universities offering gaming design and management degrees and certificates. Here are just a few examples:

Miami University marketing esports for universities and colleges

Miami University uses this video to promote their Online Masters in Esports Management degree, inviting prospective students to "turn your passion for gaming into an exciting career"

5. Show off your achievements

Whether it's your basketball team's consistent appearance in the Final Four, multiple chess championships, or engineering innovation awards, everyone loves a winner.

marketing esports for universities and colleges

Maryville University has a high-energy video front-and-center on their esports landing page, recapping the school's three national championships. Note the three calls to action (to apply, to visit the campus, and to request additional information).

And prospective students looking to compete want to do so in a school that gives them the chance to hold up a trophy.

Colleges and universities should give equal spotlight to their esports achievements as their other athletic varsity programs.

By showcasing their school's esports championships and tournament wins, and nominations/wins in prestigious awards, schools can demonstrate their commitment to esports.

Northeastern University esports marketing

Northeastern University, for example, celebrates wins
and has an official Instagram account for their esports program

Similar to traditional varsity athletics—football, basketball, baseball—esports is a fantastic way to let prospective students of all backgrounds know that competitive video gaming is a viable entryway into higher education.

University of Hawaii esports marketing

The University of Hawai'i humorously used a meme from the movie Wedding Crashers on their official Twitter esports account (@UHEsport) to celebrate their surprising 2022 Best Collegiate Esports Program of the Year win at the globally recognized Esports Awards in Las Vegas

Even if they have no interest in becoming a professional player after graduating, college and university esports programs can lead to a host of related fields of study and professions. This opens up a whole new avenue for recruitment."

By marketing video games as a path to a future career, you can attract prospective students who might have thought that video games were only a pastime to be enjoyed outside the classroom.

Does your college or university have an esports program? How are you promoting it?

We'd love to hear your experiences and thoughts in the comments below or on social media. 

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