University of Illinois at Chicago Gaming Team Wins $20K Scholarship

University of Illinois at Chicago
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By Matt Killorin
Last updated on August 9, 2023

University of Illinois at Chicago esports squad, including international student Nikita from Ukraine, claims a championship after its second straight Collegiate Star League finals appearance.

University of Illinois at Chicago

A male international student plays a video game during a gaming championship at UIC

With a 2-0 lead in the Collegiate Star League (CSL) 2020 Defense of the Ancients (DOTA) 2 Championship Grand Finals, the University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) team was just one win away from a $20,000 scholarship payout. But it was not going to be that easy. The University of Toronto struck back, taking down UIC’s ancient in Game 3. 

“CSL was not hard before the playoffs. In our region, we lost only one map,” said Nikita, a UIC freshman from Ukraine, who goes by the name Prod1gy~  in competitions. “The real DOTA started in the playoffs … we had some tough games. But [with] teamwork and communication, we beat Toronto and won the tournament.”

DOTA 2 is an esports Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) game featuring two teams of five players. Each team selects one of three lanes toward their opponent’s ancient — each with unique strategy and difficulty challenges. The first team to make it past their opponent’s defenses and destroy their ancient wins the game. 

Esports is a rising phenomenon on university campuses across the United States. While competition occurs in MOBA video game formats, the action is as intense and competitive as on any playing field. Other popular esports games include League of Legends (LoL) and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO). 

This is the second year in a row the DOTA at UIC team made it to the CSL grand finals, and the school’s esports club is growing.

“According to our Slack channel, there are more than 300 people,” said Nikita. 

Gaming at UIC 

Nikita had participated in DOTA tournaments before, back home in Ukraine, and he was happy to find a great community at UIC. When his new friend Zhangir told him the DOTA team was looking for another player, he worked hard and won the position. Nikita joined four other international students — Xiaoyun and Charles from China, Samir from Iraq, and Michael from Poland — as the fifth member of the esports squad. 

“I received a lot of help from our coordinator and coach Michael, who supported me during hard times in the middle of the season,” said Nikita. “I also want to say a big thanks to Samir, who explained many things about my position to me. Charles gave me a lot of information about my role in the private lobby and chat, as well.” 

Nikita has had a whirlwind couple of years. Before winning the CSL DOTA 2 Grand Finals in March, the computer science major enrolled at UIC, fulfilling a lifelong dream. 

I was not planning to study in the US until my last year at Ukrainian high school. When my dad told me that, since I have perfect grades, I can go to the US, it was one of the best moments of my life! I had been dreaming about studying in the US for three years, and it finally happened.” —Nikita from Ukraine 

US Universities With Gaming Programs of Study 

In addition to fierce esports battles at college-level tournaments, gaming areas of study, such as design and development, are gaining popularity at US universities. The $20 billion industry, according to Statista, is one of the most significant segments of global entertainment. Video game designers and developers are in high demand, with an expected 9% job growth rate by 2026, according to CareerExplorer

Beyond UIC, here are a few other US universities where you can study gaming: 

University of Central Florida

The University of Central Florida is ranked the 16th most innovative university in the United States by U.S. News & World Report. With excellent engineering, computer science, and arts programs, it is no wonder UCF’s Interactive Entertainment graduate curriculum is ranked number-one for game design in the US by Princeton Review and PC Gamer magazine.

University of Utah

The University of Utah has one of the best computing programs in the nation — ranked 17th by CSRankings in 2020. Utah offers two bachelor tracks, one minor, one graduate arts and engineering degree (MEAE), and even one dual MBA/MEAE. Utah is one of the only universities in the nation with multiple educational options for game design, development, and the business side of gaming. 

University of the Pacific

The Media X program at the University of the Pacific draws creative students from around the world to their non-traditional, interdisciplinary curriculum. Students create learning tracts mixing and matching their interests in graphic design, business, digital and visual art, film studies, communication, computer science and engineering, and more. UOP’s innovative structure and connections to the industry have led to internships in careers in video game art direction, mechanics design, audio engineering, and story writing. 

American University

American University is ranked the 77th best national undergraduate university by U.S. News & World Report. American’s Game Lab program is an interdisciplinary hub of game-related certificates, degrees, and research opportunities. Students can get a master’s degree or a master’s-level certificate in Game Design through the School of Communication and the College of Arts and Sciences. Students may also choose between two masters of fine arts tracks: an MFA in Games and Interactivity or an MFA in Film and Electronic Media with a Games and Interactivity concentration. 

Read more about studying gaming at US universities >>

Finding your game on campus 

If you are interested in studying video game design, development, or the business of video games, reach out to an advisor to find out which schools have programs that fit your interests. Be sure to look for schools with cutting-edge technology and research centers. Look for programs with interdisciplinary, non-traditional degree requirements — the video game industry requires many different types of skills and career specializations. Finally, do not forget to look for schools with good relationships with the studios and game companies — especially the places where you’d love to work or intern. 

And if you are more into esports than a video game career — you are in luck! The esports industry is expected to make more than $1 billion in 2020, according to Statista, and university campuses are taking notice. There are more than 170 US colleges and universities with varsity esports teams — including the University of Kansas — according to the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE). That number has almost tripled in two years, up from sixty-three in 2018. 

Other schools with competitive teams, clubs, and programs include Louisiana State University, University of South Carolina, and at UIC with Nikita, who is excited to continue developing his esports passion. He hopes one day to see esports treated the same as other sports teams on campuses everywhere. 

“I hope that UIC will provide esports scholarships someday!” he said. 

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