5 Recruiting Techniques Used By Top College Esports Programs
All-Star coaches tell their secrets of building a strong culture with the best talent
Not all esports players can make the leap straight to the pros from high school, like LeBron James and stars from other sports. That’s why colleges who run flourishing programs with full staffs are nearing the top of their recruiting games, tapping into a growing number of scholarships at an average of $4800 per player who qualifies.
A strong collegiate scene is one reason the pipeline from amateur to pro is showing signs of new life at a time NFHS partnered with PlayVS to operate varsity leagues for games like League of Legends and Rocket League at schools everywhere, giving players a unique chance at recruiting opportunities.
Easier said than done, say some college coaches – especially ones at smaller schools with upstart teams of mostly upperclassmen. Since the practice of recruiting can be a challenge, our Super Coaches spoke at length during PlayVS Coach’s Clinics about the five best ways to enlist standout students.
Partner With Admissions & Records On A Web Portal
One of the perks of working at a university is the wide range of resources and talented personnel working with or near you who can specialize in rounding out the marketing presence of your program. That includes the setup for a state of the art recruitment portal on the school’s official website, which can also redirect to the Admissions & Records office for priority applicants who can score a tryout and an invite to check out the campus and your facilities.
That means focusing on how the college can benefit students academically, and making that central to your pitch on the web portal – which should highlight any and all opportunities for players to obtain a scholarship.
“Our players are awarded scholarships based on need and based on competitive success they’ve had in the past as high school students,” said Price. “Getting to know your admissions department is one of the first things you really need to do, because they often have personnel out in multiple areas of the country and are more likely to have connections to high schools and their programs.”
Invite High School Esports Teams For A Tour
Whether it’s virtual or a physical tour, one of the best ways to find out who’s making waves in the high school scene – outside of pouring over player data from a competitive source like PlayVS – is by keeping tabs on high school programs with a growing allegiance and graduating students with a history of success.
“If local high schools are calling me up and saying they want to come take a look at our facilities and teams, the door is totally open,” said Callum Fletcher, the Illinois Wesleyan Esports program director. “Because I’m seeing potential recruits, exposure for the program and our school, and there is no program in the country that will turn down those opportunities.”
With so much of school life going remote in 2020, being available for a phone call or a virtual tour is an advantage. Regardless of whether or not your campus is open for classes, future-proofing your recruitment techniques starts with putting on display the facilities and offerings your esports program provides — and be open to talking about them.
“I would welcome the opportunity to jump on the phone and keep tabs on your high school and learn about whoever’s graduating. I’d be glad to jump on a phone call and talk about our teams or show you the facilities under normal circumstances,” said Nate Meeker, Akron University’’s esports director.
Have An Active Team Chat Channel, Like Discord
Continually posting updates in your team’s Discord server is great for keeping your players engaged and interactive during times of (mostly) virtual schedule keeping, but it’s also an invaluable recruitment tool. Twitch streams and Twitter can help promote your accolades, but team culture is carrying on tradition in Discord servers across the esports spectrum. It’s the best spot for high school coaches and graduating players to initiate contact with universities who need to fill out their rosters.
“Our Discord is now essentially the heart of everything, unlike our esports lab, which is still running but at limited capacity,” said Price. Henderson State is just one of many colleges getting creative about creating team chemistry, and interested high schoolers for virtual tours.
Similar tools that will greatly impact your two-way communication recruitment efforts include Microsoft Teams and Slack, where private invites can be generated through a link you can share with prospective talents and their coaches.
Promote What Sets Your School Apart
Since your program represents a university where inbound students are likely to spend the next four years of their lives, our Super Coaches recommend formal recruitment pitches (and all your rad marketing material) promote the best your school has to offer.
“At Akron, we are primarily a STEM-minded institution so the things we do really well are engineering and computer information systems, then we also have very good business and law schools,” said Meeker. “In addition to that, we are one of the better esports programs across the country.”
Of course, having a winning culture from top to bottom is key to your recruitment pitch for top high school esports players. But painting a broader picture of how the diploma will either advance their primary career goals or create a backup plan is equally as important.
“Illinois Wesleyan University is a darn good school, and as far as academics we are number one in job placement in the state and number seven in the U.S.,” said Fletcher. “Beyond that, our esports teams are extremely competitive, and our League of Legends team is one of the best in the country.”
Hire Dedicated Content Creators
Running active social channels will benefit your esports program wildly, especially for smaller schools who have the team infrastructure and access to scholarships but are off-radar for most inbound freshmen.
Savvy content creators working full time to promote your team and its exploits can come from literally anywhere; the Fine Arts department, the Alumni association or even players who can act as interns. Digital presence is key, and since you don’t know when players are actively looking at teams to join, continual messaging that incorporates player highlights or scores or lab upgrades can become part of your regular recruiting process.
“I really love UCF and I would call us the ‘hidden champions,’ and I would be happy to talk to anyone,” said Annabel Zinn of University of Central Florida Gaming Knights. “Our social media is super active and we usually recruit students already in UCF, but if you’re not enrolled our DMs are always open.”
For more information on best practices for your esports program, you can register for our next Coach’s Clinic right here.