What college esports programs look for when recruiting

High school students may be lights out at gaming, but they have to do more than play well to land at institutions such as UC Irvine.
By: | July 20, 2020
Photo courtesy of the North America Scholastic Esports Federation

Unless you have been living under a rock, (which is a totally responsible life choice in 2020) you have heard some of the buzz and excitement around college esports. 

There are now well over 100 U.S. colleges and universities offering scholarships, and schools are beginning to invest into facilities and academic programs to beat the competition. If you are a high school student and interested in playing video games competitively in college, you might be interested to know what esports programs are looking for.  

As Director for UCI Esports at the University of California, Irvine, I am always on the lookout for talented and passionate young folks to join the program and help elevate our work. In four years, our students have earned more than $500,000 in scholarships and we have hired more than 100 students to work for us as arena staff, content creators, and interns. There are lots of opportunities at UCI and I know my colleagues around the country are looking for talented individuals to do new, innovative work with their programs.

Here are some of the things I look for when recruiting talent:


  1. We look for skill level since it’s the hardest element to find. I want to see a super-high solo queue ranking and hopefully some competitive team experience. I want to see that you’re specialized into a role and have a diverse hero/champion/character pool in that role.  

2. We look at your grades and academic history. UCI has very competitive admissions and we want to ensure that our athletes are able to succeed once they get here. It is our intention to have you graduate with a UCI degree and we need to know that school will be a priority for you.  

3. We look for fit. I want to see high levels of motivation to compete.  If you are not driven to be the best then it can be hard to overcome adversity… and there will always be some adversity. We look for team players that make decisions that are good for the team. We need to know you can manage your time effectively and live up to coach and program expectations. Finally, we look for players who can appreciate diversity and individual differences. Building a positive team culture at UCI is vital to having a premier esports program.

Other roles

There are a growing number of paid and unpaid jobs for non-players in college esports programs. This year we will have 14 paid student positions to help us with business development, video content, graphic design, social media, team management, shoutcasting, stream production, and supporting NASEF, our scholastic esports partner. While the above-mentioned criteria largely apply, for these specialized positions, we additionally want to see a portfolio that shows off your skills and experience.  

Additionally, we work collaboratively with many graduate students on campus to support their research efforts and to make sure our program aligns with best practices as determined through scientific research. Graduate students also help lead the planning for our annual UCI Esports Conference in October. I am not involved in graduate applications, but should you choose that route there are ways to be involved with esports in your (very limited) spare time.

Overall, there are many great opportunities for college students to contribute to esports programs. I anticipate that those positions will grow quickly in the next five years. Whether you are a player, support staff, or content creator you can set yourself up for a rewarding college experience by building up your skills, focusing on your grades, and demonstrating your ability to work in a team environment.   

Good luck and stay safe!

Mark Deppe led the effort to create the award-winning esports program at UCI and serves as the inaugural commissioner for the North America Scholastic Esports Federation. Working closely with student leaders, administrators, faculty, and industry partners, he built a program that broadly approaches the world of esports through the five pillars of Competition, Research, Community, Entertainment, and Careers.