A Guide to Starting an Esports Team at College

Note, if you are a teacher or school staff member looking to start an esports team for your school, reach out to me at uzair.hasan@esporthow.com. This article is targeted towards students, but I’d be happy to jump on a quick call with you and run you through the basics.

Upon entering college, many students are excited to share their competitive passion for gaming with their peers and are hoping to show their skills up on the big collegiate stage.

That said, most are disappointed to see that their college either has no esports teams or no esports teams for the games they desire. Luckily for you, I’ve been there and personally seen teams unfold at my college and at my friend’s colleges.

How do you start an esports team? To start an esports team, you must do the following:

  1. Solidify what you want, your goals and your objective
  2. Investigate esports collegiate leagues and registration dates
  3. Build out your administrative team
  4. Locate an allied administrative staff member from the athletic department or student council
  5. Build out your college esports team’s structure
  6. Host recruitment for players
  7. Develop morale and instantly reduce conflicts and drama
  8. Register for collegiate leagues, local tournaments and scrims
  9. Practice, practice, practice
  10. Build infrastructure for your college’s esports expansion and continue legacy post-graduation
  11. Train leaders to take over

In this article, I will be breaking down each of these steps in detail to further aid you on your journey. In addition, below I answered additional questions such as the money required to run the team, esports players’ payrolls, team expansion and becoming officially recognized by your school.

Starting Your College Esports Team

Before we get into the details of how exactly to start your esports team, I want to preface by saying that the venture will take some work and a bit of time. That said, it will be well worth it as you will learn and grow so much from the experience, making college worth going to.

This may even lead you to a job in esports in the future. I know this is how I and many of my colleagues got started. If you are interested in learning more about how to land a job in esports, be sure to join the Esport How Discord server.

Now without further ado, let’s get into exactly how you can make the magic happen.

1. Solidify What You Want, Your Goals And Your Objective

Firstly, before you can start building anything, you need to know what you are building. Obviously, you are looking to start an esports team, but for what purpose?

How many esports teams? Are you looking to run it and/or play in the teams? Are you focused on getting experience for your portfolio, expand esports in your college or just looking to have fun?

These are all questions you need to answer as this will affect what you do and how.

If your objective is strictly because you want to enjoy being on the esports team yourself, you need to recognize that you will also be doing a lot of the heavy lifting, unlike your other team members.

This would include managing scrims, communications, travel, practice times, conflicts, administrative staff management and a number of other jobs.

Not to mention it will be significantly harder to garner the respect of the players if you too are a player, reducing your overall hierarchical status (for more on this, read books like The 48 Laws of Power).

Perhaps you may want to rethink how you approach this. If not, maybe you can get another one of your less skilled (in the game) friends from college to be the manager instead.

If you are looking to build out your college’s esports just for vanity, experience and/or building a legacy, then you want to think about how much time you’d like to dedicate to this venture and how many teams do you want?

Know that any number of teams beyond 1 will become too difficult to just handle alone. You’d want to pull on additional students as team managers, coaches and any other staff you want to pull along.

Doing that will force your hand from being a manager of a specific team to being the esports director of all the teams.

I’ve seen people try to be the director and also a manager for one of their teams, and it’s doable, but it’s a lot of work and typically results in several errors.

If you don’t want a headache 24/7 but still want multiple esports teams, just stick to being a director with a dedicated manager per team.

2. Investigate Esports Collegiate Leagues And Registration Dates

Now that you know what you want to do, you should know where exactly your team/s will be playing. This is step 2 only so you don’t sound like you are ill-prepared, ill-informed or just completely unprofessional before you look for your admin team and speaking to college staff.

Trust me, the more professional and prepared you sound, the better chance they’ll be on board because it’ll come off as a respectable effort.

That said, we don’t want to over-prepare without our admin team or approval from the school because that’s wasteful (and as a certified agile project manager, I hate waste).

To complete this step, based on your game, look at local tournaments and online leagues that you could participate in.

Locating Local Tournaments

Local tournaments tend to be open to everyone, so any of those are still open for your team to go to (you don’t know your travel budget yet, if you have one, but it’s important to be aware of them).

You can find local tournaments simply by doing a bit of research on Google, turning off your VPN and providing Google your location.

There are also sometimes websites with a list of local tournaments. A great place to look would be sites like Battlefy or Smash.gg (depending on genre, Smash.gg is for mostly only FGC games).

Once you find one, if you can connect with a player, or even ideally a staff member, to introduce yourself and ask them if they know of other local tournaments.

Since they had to do extensive research to avoid conflicts, they should at least know about the local tournaments near their tournament’s date.

Locating Collegiate Leagues and Online Tournaments

Depending on the game, most major games can be found by a simple google search.

For example, to find the League of Legends one I Googled “league of legends collegiate league” and found the right one in the first result (I’d know since I’ve signed up for it before).

For League of Legends specifically, there is a bit to do in terms of signing up, I won’t get into it here, but you’ll quickly figure it out as you read through it.

I quickly Googled Overwatch, Hearthstone and Fortnite and found them in the first search result no problem (this isn’t rocket science).

See when I googled Valorant, I didn’t find anything. Why? Because Valorant doesn’t currently have an official collegiate league (at least they didn’t last year, which is why my college didn’t end up making a team).

In Valorant’s case, you want to go to AVGL as they kind of dominate the scene for Valorant tournaments at the moment, but let’s pretend that it wasn’t the case.

In those situations, you can find a number of online tournaments for the game. To do that, simply go to sites like Battlefy and Smash.gg. There are other sites too, but those 2 alone will do you justice.

You can find more professional companies running bigger tournaments occasionally like Redbull. But typically you see smaller ones, so you can pick and choose your battles based on prizing and participation size (my friend Leon from LS eSports runs weekly Valorant and LoL tournaments).

Additionally, you can find ESL-run tournaments from the ESL’s website, which has a number of leagues that can also help you get by.

Saving Time By Networking

If you really want to ensure that you don’t miss any local tournaments and you want to save yourself some time, a more ideal approach would be to network with a esports college team student leader of a college close to you.

If you build this relationship, this will yield you fruits even beyond just this step, but throughout your college career.

It’s pretty easy to get into contact, simply reach out to one of their school departments if their team is officially endorsed by the school. If not, once you find any collegiate leagues, look for who is representing a school local to you.

In Ontario, we have a community called POG (Proud Ontario Gamers) and they basically knew when all the local tournaments and leagues were happening

From there, you should be able to contact them. If not, look at their IGN, join the league’s Discord server and locate the same IGN there. Tends to work.

From there, introduce yourself, tell him you are starting an esports team at your college and wanted to know all the local tournaments. I’m sure they not only would be happy to tell you, but they will endlessly give you advice from their experiences (people love to talk 😊)

3. Build Out Your Administrative Team

Now you have to pick your admin team before making the ask to the college. This part is honestly the most annoying and problematic if you don’t have friends who are willing to do it, and you may even decide to skip this until after you talk to staff.

Deciding to Postpone this Step

The reason you’d skip it is that when you hold team trials, you will need to market it on blasting using internal colleague tools (email blast typically but can also be student council social media).

Once you are doing that, you can also blast that you are looking for staff, and I’m sure less skilled yet enthusiastic players would show up/reach out (I recommend having your email in the email and have them reach out before trials to figure out logistics) and you can talk your way to having them join you.

How to Find Staff

If you won’t wait, you will ideally first ask your friends. If you have an esports arena in your college or very nearby your college, go there and talk to some of the gamers.

You can also setup a booth asking people if they are interested in an esports team (before talking to staff) and also have a staff signup form there. This depends on if your college requires you to be an official team/club to get a booth, at least mine didn’t (and I abused that like hell😊).

The nice thing about the latter option is that you will actually have the ability to interview and vet people more thoroughly. Sadly as a starting college esports team, you don’t have that luxury and usually are limited to whoever is interested.

Characteristics to Look For in Staff

If you can choose who you want, you want to look for the following in a staff member

  • Communication skills: If they aren’t communicating with you or your team on vital information, they will create problems with miscommunication down the line.
  • Responsibility skills: This speaks for itself. If they aren’t responsible, they will inevitably screw you and/or the team over at one point after a late-night drinking party.
  • Conflict resolution skills: This isn’t a must, but they at least need to try to stop conflicts. As we will speak very soon, conflicts can literally make or break your hopes of creating a college esports team. If they excel at this, that’s a massive plus!
  • Passion: If they don’t love the game, they may leave early. We don’t want that.

The image above was my staff for our club. We were having a team-building party! (I was behind the camera)

Again, you won’t have the luxury to choose most of the time when you start off, but if you do, those are what you are looking for.

4. Locate An Allied Administrative Staff Member From The Athletic Department Or Student Council

Once you have a plan, know the tournaments you want to be involved in and have the staff who are likely already brainstorming their next steps, now you want to see if you can become official.

There are really two roads to go down. You can go the official athletics road and create your esports team as a varsity team or you can go the non-official school club route.

Varsity Team vs Team Club

To answer the question of which one is better, it’s always the varsity team. The varsity team players will get special privileges, a bigger budget and eventually, the staff running the teams may get paid.

Not to mention it opens doors for the players themselves to get paid.

But to get varsity approval takes time, a lot of bureaucracy work, at least one highly committed staff from athletics and may require you to lose a semester or 2 during the process.

If you already have an esports club with a clean track record, that’s a good sign you can move up to varsity. If not, I’d still try for varsity, but if it fails, I’d go to a team club.

A team club can still play in tournaments, represent your school and get a bit of club budget as all other clubs would (differs from school to school).

It’s exceptionally easy to start up a club, you just need to get through the student council (or in my case, sign a form and I was done).

The downfall is that no player or staff is getting paid, you won’t receive any assistance with travel and you won’t get much credibility or support within the school.

That said, if your collegiate team can do really well in representing the school via your team club, it highly increases your chances of becoming varsity with your next approach after the fact.

Approaching Athletics

First, before you approach athletics you’ll need to know who’s your man (or woman) that will likely best reciprocate your passion and excitement for the idea.

Typically it’ll be a younger individual, typically male (but not exclusively, my professor who I approached and approved my esports club in high school was a woman) and generally is the innovative type that wants to make your college the best in terms of athletics.

You want someone who can make decisions, and typically someone who does all the new crazy stuff the college has never done before.

Not sure who that is? Ask some of the athletes. Don’t be shy, they won’t bite.

If you won’t ask or if you got unsatisfactory answers, just make your best ballpark guess and make the approach.

Start off with a bit of small talk, introduce yourself and explain what esports is and your desire to make it into a varsity team.

Make sure you show that you’ve thought this through and ideally communicate that most colleges already have a varsity team and your college is behind.

Also, mention all the leagues and tournaments you can join for free for prizing and school recognition. And that you’ll be 100% in with your pre-determined staff to run it.

If you ask the wrong person, they will disregard you either because A) they don’t see esports as a direction they want to go into, B) they don’t want the extra work and it didn’t excite them or C) they don’t want to deal with the bureaucracy of trying to make it a varsity.

If they decline, you have 2 real options. Firstly, you could politely ask if there is someone else more suited or higher up you can speak to about the idea. This is a good idea if you feel like you just asked the wrong person and they really don’t care about esports.

They may take that as an insult and fire back without giving you a name, but it won’t hurt to ask (word it more politely ideally).

If you saw that they liked the idea, were considering it or are currently too busy, you can either ask the first question (to find someone less busy) or ask if we can revisit the idea in 2-4 weeks from now.

If he would be willing to revisit it, get his email and schedule a time for a meeting. Schedule it there or as soon as possible, otherwise he may try to slide it off in the near future.

That is, of course, if you don’t run into someone who wants to be the best on the college scene (which athletic staff are more prone to want).

If all else fails, we go to the student council.

Approaching Student Council

Approaching student council will be different for each college as different colleges have different procedures set in place.

As I said earlier, my procedure was simply to walk into our SAC office, tell the receptionist that I wanted to start a club. She would hand me a form, I’d walk outside the office, fill it, return it and I’m set with a $200 budget and privileges to use different limited-access utilities around the college.

When I write it out like that, really anyone could have signed the paper, gotten free privileges and $200 to spend on a bunch of food for a group of friends 😛.

Regardless, for your college, you may have to go through a vetting process to determine if this club is something the college wants to incorporate. You may be interviewed, you may have to make a petition and/or survey.

I wouldn’t know, but what I do know is that it’s exceptionally easy to get through, although some may require more work than others, and if you don’t already have an esports/gaming team or esports/gaming club, there shouldn’t be a barrier to entry.

5. Build Out Your College Esports Team’s Structure

Now that things are in place, it’s time to get even more things in place (haha); let’s figure out the structure.

When I say structure, I’m essentially talking about the following:

  • Team Format: How many players per team? Do you need a manager? A coach? An analyst? Any other staff? Any subs? What’s the min and max number of allowed players on your team?
  • Practice: How many times per week will you practice? Where will you practice (at home or can you rent out a set of computers)? Who will coordinate practices? How often will you scrim? Who will be in charge of finding the scrimming opponents? Who will be in charge to ensure all players are there for the scrim?
  • Tournament Registration: What time frame do you have to register? What do you need in place to register beforehand? Does it cost money to register? Can I get it reimbursed?
  • Meetings: How often will you meet? Are these meetings staff only or also require players? Where will you meet? What will be discussed during meetings?
  • Branding: What will be our team/s name? Does it align best to represent our college? How about our mascot? Our logo? Our color scheme? Can we get jerseys reimbursed? Will you have social media? If so, which social accounts? Who will manage it?
  • Administration: Is there any other admin work that needs to be dealt with for the college? Who will oversee that?

In addition to that, anything else that needs to be handled should be handled. Certain things such as timing for scrims, for example, won’t necessarily be decided now, but you want an idea at least.

6. Host Recruitment For Players

Let’s get to the fun part, recruiting players. This is where things are finally coming together in a very cool and exciting way.

Your efforts will start to pay off. But before you can recruit players, you need the players to come to you. You need to get the word out.

Deciding the Details

What will you do for your recruitment? Surely if you only got 5 people for your LoL team, you would have no choice but to accept them. However, for 90% of the readers, that won’t be the case (nor should you ever plan is if it was as such).

Instead, we need to plan beforehand what will we do to determine which players would be best fitted to join the team.

With that said, first it’ll be useful to have an idea of how many people will show up. I’d recommend making a Google Form (or another signup sheet of any software) to get an idea of how many people will show up and put a soft deadline (meaning if people realize after the fact, they can still try out but we won’t publically disclose that that’s the case) a few days before the try outs.

Even before you get that number, you want to give yourself a ballpark number. What will you if 10 people show up? What about 50? Do you have the technology on campus for tryouts? Will people have to play at home? How will that all be coordinated?

For us, we had an esports arena that could be used for trials.

If it’s live, how many PCs do you have? How will you determine who to keep vetting and who to know? How much of a time allocation are you looking at?

Think this through and plan it out properly. There are countless ways you can decide to do it, therefore I won’t tell you one way (as it will be different per college anyway).

Just be flexible, if you get much more people than expected to change things up when needed.

Getting the Word Out

For the most part, since you either are approved by athletics or the student council, getting the word out is actually fairly simple.

It will vary from school to school but you generally want to leverage pre-existing marketing tools that you can get your hands on.

These tools include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Athletics/Student counsel social media accounts
  • Email blasts to all students
  • Announcements (also known as PAs, or Public Announcements)
  • Posters hung around the college
  • The college’s Discord and/or Reddit page
  • The student residence poster board, social media and/or announcement
  • Your personal social media accounts (if that’s something you or your staff are willing to do)
  • A booth in an open area on campus (more effective on smaller campuses, during club fairs or during a rush period)

There’s younger me at our booth to promote some of our tournaments on campus!

What we ended up doing is for future students, we decided to making a list of all the social media platforms we had access to. We would pick and choose which would make sense for each application, not to abuse any and keep track of how much we used of each (image below).

Characteristics to Look For in Players

You already have established what the people will do during your vetting process but we never talked about what to look for.

Unlike in my article Step-by-Step Guide on How to Start an Esports Team (which, believe it or not, for the most part both articles turned out fairly different considering the only difference is the college setting vs business focus), you shouldn’t necessarily judge your player strictly off of numbers and soft-skills.

Instead, you’d want to watch out for 2 key things in this order 1) their skill level and 2) their ability to play in a team without conflicts.

Without a doubt, those are the 2 most important elements, missing either of those 2 elements will render that play not appropriate to play with the team.

I don’t care if they are the best player at your college, if they are initiating conflicts, hurting team morale and creating drama, they will not only hurt your team’s performance, but end your entire team outright; especially if this is a varsity team.

With clubs, you have a lot more flexibility but even then I’d remove the player the moment you spot trouble. You know what they say, one bad apple spoils the whole bunch. That couldn’t be more true for esports teams.

Hopefully, you never get to a point of needing to remove because you would have already gone through your vetting process (but sadly you can’t identify all the bad apples during the vetting process, therefore it should be clear that intentional or continual incursions will not be tolerated).

7. Develop Morale And Instantly Reduce Conflicts And Drama

I won’t go into too much depth here since it’s out of the scope of this already very long article, but it’s important to continuously have your team confident in their plays, continuously wanting to play and minimizing drama.

The last thing you want is for people to stop playing. That’s a potential risk to the survivability of your team. Not to mention even if you can make up that one person, once one person leaves, the others become very likely to leave following that incident and/or decision.

Before anyone ever leaves, there’s this feeling of a massive barrier between leaving and not leaving. But once that one leaves, people realize they can just do the same, and even feel more inclined now that another member has.

You ideally want to take social control and watch out for subtle hints and point out passive-aggressive statements or small jabs at another player’s performance or general character.

If you struggle with this, learn about social dynamics and social structures. Because books are so powerful, I’ll recommend 2 below on this topic:

*Note, all hyperlinks above are Amazon affiliates that generate my company a bit of revenue per sale. Purchases using those links are very appreciated as it allows me to create more transparent content like this that you wouldn’t find other business professionals providing elsewhere!

8. Register For Collegiate Leagues, Local Tournaments And Scrims

We already went through how to find your collegiate league and local tournaments. However, we haven’t gone over what a scrim is nor how to set up a scrim.

Setting Up Scrims For Your Esports College Team

A scrim, also less popularly written as skrim, is when a competitive team plays off against another practicing competitive team at a similar skill level.

Both these teams tend to be playing in similar tournaments and leagues, but may not face each other in that specific tournament or league any time soon. Scrims have no effect on the tournament and/or leagues taking place; they are strictly for practice without punishment.

This term is used in both sports and esports. For more information on what a scrim is, click here.

To set up a scrim, you must find another team at a similar skill level, communicate to their team leader your desire to play a few competitive matches, coordinate a date and show up virtually on the agreed-upon date to play.

To find these opposing teams, most college teams leverage their game’s top league’s communication channel (typically Discord) to request any team to scrim via a public message.

You can also directly message a team you have a relationship with or know would be a good team to scrim against.

9. Practice, Practice, Practice

This one goes without saying, once you have the team signed up and ready to go, you must practice. I know most teams that have practice a few times per week in addition to players being required to play each day to maintain skills.

Teams tend to run their own practices, meetings to go over vid reviews (vid = video. Basically review recorded gameplay to point out errors, mistakes and smart decisions from previous games), host scrims vs opposing teams and even play in the standard queue as friends from time to time to help each other improve on specific skills in the less general atmosphere of team practice.

Although most of that is straightforward, scrimming is not as much. Thankfully, we went into depth on how to create a scrim as well, so we should have covered all of our bases there.

Just be sure to do a bunch of vid reviews and always brainstorm how you can improve the performance of the team. Remember, sleep, diet and exercise also play a big role in the performance of your players. Realize it or not, you want to ideally watch out and ensure everyone does all they can to play at their peak.

10. Build Infrastructure For Your College’s Esports Expansion And Continue Legacy Post-Graduation

Once you have established everything and the ball is rolling, let’s try to make some waves. Why not expand and create yourself a great legacy. How?

Well for one, you can expand the number of teams you have at your school. This would have to be with the permission of athletics and will require more work on your part, but if you can handle it and get it approved, go for it.

If you have a decent number of teams, why not do more within the school itself. Perhaps you may want to start a club as a byproduct to further your esports growth.

This club can host events, tournaments and cheer on the teams throughout the year. This is how you’ll end up creating a much larger presence throughout the school itself.

There’s one of our expansion events, the League of Legends Worlds viewing party. It ended up failing to garner people (because of mistakes listed here), but it was a blast!

There are many ways you go about it beyond just training players to be the best (the skill growth exponentially declines as players near their peak), why not really make a name for yourself throughout your college.

To help you continue this legacy post-grad, you will need future leaders to take over your mantle. Let’s talk about that further in the final step below.

11. Train Leaders To Take Over

Too many esports college clubs and teams make the mistake of ill-fully planning for their transition as they graduate from college. I say this because I made this mistake as well and my college club, LCGC, suffered to make the transition into the following year as a result.

But I’m not the only one, multiple friends and colleagues of mine that I know from different colleges ran into the same thing. Everyone is so preoccupied with the day-to-day that no one is thinking ahead.

What you want to do is not have your executive or leadership positions be filled with everyone who is going to leave college the following year. You’d like someone who is freshman or sophomore as a COO or vice-president during your last year running the teams/club.

That way, they can learn all the ropes, be prepared to take over and hopefully continue your legacy to a point where he too will take on a freshmen/sophomore as a vice-president and keep the legacy going.

The last thing you want is for the club to die out because of a lack of new leaders. The 2nd last thing you want is the club to continue but lose all the work, knowledge, assets and effort you put in to begin with.

That’s why finding and training a new leader while you are still there for at least a year is super important. That’s how your club will start to become one of the best in US (or Canada, eh), by continuously improving and developing.

Obviously, as more teachers get involved, this becomes less impactful of a tactic, but until that point you want to train good leaders.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Much Money Do You Need to Start a College Esports Team?

How much money do you need to start a college esports team? None, you can start a college esports team for free. That said, having money will allow you to pay entry fees, purchase equipment, pay for travel and purchase merchandise.

This amount should be provided by the college ideally, but I know many college esports teams that run off of the money of the players and staff members when the college refuses to pay.

Do College Esports Players Get Paid?

Do college esports players get paid? It depends on the college. Most esports players on varsity teams get paid a small amount and also receive 100% of the money won from tournaments. Esports players in college clubs don’t get paid for representing the college.

Should You Stream Your College Esports Team?

Should you stream your college esports team? Streaming your college esports team provides a number of benefits including additional exposure, more student skill-development opportunities, a small amount of revenue and more student engagement with the team.

How to Become an Official Esports Team For Your College?

How to become an official esports team for your college? To become an official esports team for your college, you need written approval from your college’s athletics department. This process requires a long period of approval and will require the consent of other key staff members in the organization.