The Rise of Collegiate Esports in the UK

The Rise of Collegiate Esports in the UK

6 min read | 17 Mar 2021

Over the last decade, collegiate esports in the UK has grown significantly and has now become a very prominent part of student culture.

Across the UK, there are several esports courses and degrees available to get enrolled in to get started in the industry. All of these educational institutions help to drive the growth of collegiate esports across the country.

Where did it all begin?
In 2009, the term ‘College esports’ developed in the United States, and competitive esports became a notable career choice by higher education providers.

Students at college in America began to compete in esports, with programs and scholarships being set up to scout the next generation of gaming talent.

As with physical sports, esports became a varsity program – where the best players represent their educational institution to go against other teams.

Collegiate esports boomed massively in the US, and in 2010, the scene began to develop in the UK.

2010 saw Joshua Williams, a student from Loughborough University, founding NUEL as a way to create a collegiate esports scene across universities.

Now, NUEL is one of the biggest university esports communities in the United Kingdom, with over 15,000 students taking part in events from 110 different universities.

NUEL works with universities across the UK to support esports teams and societies, as well as hosting various events throughout the year – including the University Esports Masters.

Founder Josh Williams said: “When I first started working in the university scene back in 2010 there were very few student clubs dedicated to gaming, let alone esports. There were no competitions or on campus events for students. Today, we have a thriving ecosystem of student societies and some of the biggest and most recognised collegiate tournaments in the world.”

“Esports is a great way for students to come together, meet others who share their passion. It’s important that we reach a more diverse range of gamers on campus and find ways to get them involved in esports.”

“There is a lot of scope to grow, but we’re building on good foundations.” Josh added.


Alongside NUEL, NSE (National Student Esports) also work in the collegiate esports realm – helping to expand it further across the UK.

NSE was founded in 2017, and now works alongside British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) to enhance collegiate esports.

The most notable collegiate event that NSE have created is the British University Esports Championships (alongside BUCS) – where players from various universities battle it out across various titles, just as other varsity sports compete.

Chris Henshaw, Head of League Operations at NSE, said: “University esports has grown exponentially in terms of teams but also in student awareness. Often players would be embarrassed about playing in tournaments and they wouldn’t tell friends about competing. Now we see students wearing esports gear like traditional sports.”

“I would like to see university esports reach the same place as university sport in the UK where it gets universal institutional support. Recognition of university esports is definitely on the rise though, for instance, we have partners like Intel and Barclays where we are working together to deliver initiatives that provide opportunities for the students as they consider their future career.”

Universities across the country are joining in with esports, and creating societies and teams as a way to bring people together. For several institutions, esports is integrating itself into annual varsity events; including universities in Worcester, Gloucester, York, Lancaster, and many others.

As well as this, esports degrees are also developing; giving students the chance to explore and take part at collegiate level.


Bryony-Hope Green spoke to Gerald Solomon, Founder and Executive Director of the North America Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF), to get his thoughts on integrating esports into education at all levels.

NASEF works to build pathways towards collegiate esports through schools, and is now one of the biggest organisations in the US to help provide esports to as many students as possible. As of January 2021, they are run under the World Wide Scholastic Esports Foundation (WWSEF) and aim to take their work even further across the globe.

Gerald said: “Our work is through the lens of scholastic esports, and what we do is not only provide opportunities for kids to play and compete, but also to gain skills and opportunities in the STEM and STEAM fields.”

“We started with 27 schools two years ago, and now we are at 1355 schools in 49 states, with 13,500+ students. We really believe that what we have created, connecting learning and play, is a global opportunity.”

“I think it’s critical for it to ultimately be something that provides value to communities and particularly students.”

“Today, we have a thriving ecosystem of student societies and some of the biggest and most recognised collegiate tournaments in the world.”
Josh Williams – Founder of the NUEL

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