Gaming Skills Net Thousands in Scholarship Money
For some students, esports is a ticket to a college degree.
- By Dennis Pierce
Ryan Vreeland has been playing video games since he was eight or nine years old. He never dreamed his passion could help him pay for college.
Vreeland, a senior at Wayzata High School in Minnesota, captained the school’s League of Legends team, which won the High School Esports League national championship this past winter. He and a fellow teammate, Anders Ching, were offered scholarships to nearby Bethany Lutheran College valued at $10,000 per year.
“I was ecstatic when I was offered a scholarship for esports,” he said. “There’s a certain sense of fulfillment after being rewarded for something you’ve put thousands of hours into. Knowing that what I do goes beyond having fun allows me to keep pushing forward to do greater things.”
Esports isn’t just taking schools by storm; it’s also giving students a chance to earn thousands of dollars in college scholarships. Currently, there are some 200 colleges and universities offering nearly $10 million in scholarship money to high school gamers, according to esports league PlayVS.
The High School Esports League has distributed more than $90,000 in scholarship money to students, said CEO Mason Mullenioux. Ten percent of all league fees go directly into a scholarship pool.
“Additionally, we have a well established collegiate recruiting pipeline through our partnership with the National Association of Collegiate Esports,” he said. “More than $16 million per year in scholarship money goes to HSEL students through NACE's connections with college esports programs.”
With support from the Anaheim Ducks, the North America Scholastic Esports Federation hosted an NHL ’19 tournament for high school gamers this past winter, and the winning players and their schools received scholarships and grants totaling nearly $25,000.
Esports has even been added as a category to BeRecruited, a website where high school athletes can post profiles and videos showcasing their skills to attract the attention of college recruiters.
Getting leadership to support esports at Wayzata High School has been hard, said Peter Young, who coaches the Wayzata esports teams. “The school doesn’t fund us yet at all,” he said. “We’re looking for sponsors to help build a mobile gaming arena.” But the fact that students who are skilled gamers can earn college scholarship money could help turn the tide.
When Young told the school’s leadership team about the scholarship offers to two of his students, “their eyes opened wide,” he said. “They’re listening. I think things could change. But it takes time for people to understand.”
Vreeland said he is drawn to competitive gaming “because I’m always striving to be the best.”
“Competitive games are very mentally stimulating, I find, which is the main thing that keeps me playing,” he said. “I knew there were some scholarships going around that involved esports, but I didn’t know they would grant so much.”
Dennis Pierce is a freelance writer with 17 years of experience covering education and technology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.