In 2014, Robert Morris University became the first school in the United States to create an esports scholarship program. Two years later, the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) was established to support a developing varsity esports ecosystem, now the largest member association in the college esports world. NACE also holds the largest league, NACE Starleauge, in the field, while other organizations like the National Esports Collegiate Conference (NECC) also host high-level competitions.
This past spring, the NACE and NECC competitions included games like League of Legends, Overwatch and Rocket League. The NACE finals included Call of Duty, Counter-Strike: Super Offensive and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
But which colleges have the best esports divisions in the field? This guide provides a roundup of the best leagues and schools for esports enthusiasts looking to enter higher education. Ranked by point total for their latest championships and second-place finishings, these schools have had the most successful esports programs.
1. Northwood University
Northwood is the reigning champion when it comes to the best collegiate esports teams with competitive success across multiple titles. When calculating point totals across all the major competitions, Northwood’s The Timberwolves have more than double the points as the next team. In 2023, the team was the reigning champ in most games, including Riot’s College VALORANT Championship and Blizzard’s Overwatch Collegiate Championship Series. They also won the CRL Spring Championship in Rocket League and another first place in the NACE Spring Finals and College COD Championship for Call of Duty.
This ranking doesn’t consider championships from last year, but it’s notable that the Timberwolves won a world championship in December 2022 at VALORANT. They also won the Red Bull Campus Clutch, composed of 47 teams, held in Brazil. Northwood was the only representative from the United States. They are clearly the all-stars of the esports collegiate network and are a great option to look into when researching colleges.
2. Fisher College
In 2023, Fisher College’s Falcons achieved a second-place triumph at CRL World Championships, finishing behind Dr. Buhmann Akademie from Germany. Opportunities to compete in international collegiate competitions are rare, but Fisher was a worthy competitor representing the United States who came close to capturing a world title. The Boston-based Falcons also found success at NECC Nationals the previous year. Their achievements also include a League of Legends national title and a second-place finish in Overwatch and Rainbow Six competitions. This past spring, the team also picked up four finishes for Collegiate Rocket League and College COD.
3. St. Clair College
Based in Ontario, Canada, St. Clair College has excellent prospects for its future. With an amazing 2023, they just need to score a major championship. Thus far, they have come close to earning a championship at NECC’s League of Legends and VALORANT championships at NACE’s spring championship tournaments. They ended up finishing second in three of these competitions. They also scored top-four finishes in the NACE championships for Rocket League, Call of Duty and Overwatch. In 2024, they ranked in the top six of collegiate esports teams.
4. Oklahoma Christian University
Oklahoma Christian’s esports program has created a mark in the VALORANT games. This past spring, they scored NACE and NECC champions titles. Impressively, they beat Northwood, Riot’s CVAL champions, and Carleton for the title. The team also had a noteworthy spring after finishing second place in both the NACE Spring Finals and the College COD Championships. The team clearly has some momentum behind them and may score more wins this year.
5. Maryville University
League of Legends has been an esports game that Maryville University has solidified its prowess in past years. In 2023, the pattern continues. Maryville has been a 3-time CLOL champion and came in second place in 2023’s CLOL championship. While they did not win the CLOL title this year, they did achieve first place in the NACE Spring Finals for League of Legends. The Saints also won the NACE spring finals in Overwatch and were ranked in the top four of the Blizzard’s Overwatch Collegiate Championship.
Esports offers an exciting new opportunity for college students to not only join communities and join a group of highly engaged participants to keep them engaged and stimulated. It’s an excellent chance for incoming students to consider joining and perhaps taking on the title of champion.