The collegiate esports landscape continues to rapidly grow. What started with just a few leagues and organizations is now a sprawl of both, plus conferences and associations to boot. It’s a little dizzying to keep it all straight. In a post earlier this year, we gave an overview of the growth of varsity esports in the U.S., including some of the leagues driving the sport forward. Here’s a bit more info and some updates on some of the key leagues and key teams to watch in this new 2020-2021 season.
Electronic Gaming Federation Conference (EGFC)
The EGFC is the national Division I Varsity Esports League, with championships for a growing list of games, now including Overwatch, Rocket League, FIFA, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, among others. It made big news this fall when it was announced that the BIG EAST conference—which houses 11 full member schools and five associate member schools, including big names like Seton Hall, Georgetown, University of Connecticut, Butler, Villanova, and Providence College—would be joining the EGFC as league members for a minimum three-year term.
The BIG EAST was not the only major conference to join the EGFC this year; the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) also came aboard, with 11 D-I member schools, including Iona College, Manhattan College, Quinnipiac University, Siena College, and Marist College. With the additions of the BIG EAST and MAAC schools, the EGFC now has a greatly expanded roster of 32 Division I schools competing. The league already hosted the D-I Eastern and Western Conferences, including such schools as William & Mary, Hofstra, University of Colorado, and the University of Hawaii, plus others.
One distinct leader within the MAAC is Marist College. At the 2020 MAAC Esports Championships, Marist’s team brought home the titles for three of the games—League of Legends, Rocket League, and Overwatch. They didn’t win the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate championship; however, they were in the finals opposite Siena College, which took home the gold. Next to Siena, though, is Saint Peter’s University. While Saint Peter’s didn’t take home any titles, they were in the finals for both League of Legends and Overwatch. All three of those schools will be ones to watch as we see the 2021 season play out.
National Junior College Athletic Association Esports (NJCAAE)
The NJCAAE is the sole national esports association for two-year colleges. Going into the 2020-2021 school year, the NJCAAE had 33 new registered programs, bringing their total membership to 60 schools. Among the games the association offers tournaments in are Fortnite, CS:GO, Overwatch, FIFA 20, Rocket League, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. The organization’s top teams leading the championship series last spring were the team from Snow College in Utah, which won the FIFA 20 championship; New Jersey’s Ocean County College team, which won the singles tournament for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate; and the team from Northern Essex College in Massachusetts, winning both the doubles tournament in Super Smash Bro. Ultimate and the Rocket League 3v3 championship. These junior college teams will definitely be ones to watch throughout this new season.
Tespa and Collegiate Starleague
We’d be remiss to leave off two of the biggest organizations in the biz: Tespa and Collegiate Starleague. Tespa is the biggest organization for North American collegiate esports leagues, hosting the Collegiate Esports Championship and online leagues for a broad range of predominantly Blizzard Entertainment game titles, including Hearthstone, League of Legends, Starcraft II, Heroes of the Storm, and Overwatch. (As of 2014, the two entities are officially partnered, and Blizzard hosts Tespa’s offices.) Tespa boasts over 270 chapters and over 1,350 competing schools across the United States and Canada.
Collegiate Starleague is another of the largest—and oldest—intercollegiate gaming organizations, starting in 2009 and now hosting somewhere near 1,800 schools worldwide within its league rosters and competitions. For the 2020-2021 season, they have three different divisions: the Star League, Challenger Division, and Open Division. Within Star League, there are five separate leagues, two leagues within Challenger Division, and four under Open Division, all falling under the titles of Valorant, League of Legends JV, Rocket League, DOTA 2, and CS:GO.
Other Varsity League News
In July, Ubisoft, in partnership with FACEIT, announced their own new collegiate esports league, titled the Rainbow Six Collegiate Program after the company’s forerunning game, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege. The program allows any college or university to create a team and compete in Rainbow Six tournaments against other schools, as well as host intramural matches, viewing parties and live events, and manage matches and club members.
The esports organization Cloud9 also launched a collegiate esports program, partnering with Uconnect Esports, called C9 University, described by the organization as “year-end program where we partner up with universities and launch a series of events for collegiate esports organizations,” ultimately hosting an intercollegiate tournament through the Uconnect platform. C9 University officially launched on November 5.
Just recently, the international Premier League club Wolves Esports announced a partnership with the North American Collegiate League (NACL) in the form of a 4-part tournament series for PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Rocket League, FIFA 21, and Fortnite, which in addition to championship prizes will allow players the chance to essentially try out for Wolves Esports professional teams.
Leading Varsity Teams
Aside from, or on top of, the leading teams within each collegiate conference, there are a few schools’ teams that consistently come out on top of the collegiate landscape overall. UC Irvine, University of Utah, Boise State, Maryville University in St. Louis, and Florida’s Full Sail University all carry high rankings, but this year, the Harrisburg University Storm was again named the “Best Collegiate Esports Program” at the annual Tempest Awards Gala. The Tempest Awards honors the esports industry’s “most innovative” companies and executives, including collegiate programs and teams. Harrisburg, which was one of the first colleges to create an esports program and offer full-ride scholarships to its players, has won two consecutive championship titles in the Collegiate Overwatch National Championships since 2018 along with the title at the first ESPN Overwatch National Championship in 2019. We’re sure they’ll continue to put up a good fight for other leading schools.
Which leagues and teams are you watching?