ESPORTS: Funding Opportunities and Challenges
ESPORTS: Funding Opportunities and Challenges

By Liz Shay, Senior Grants Development Consultant - Higher Education

Supporters of esports programs advocate for the noncognitive skills (such as emotion management and teamwork) that playing can develop. The competitors can also develop technical skills that could help them with future employment in broadcasting, event production, or information technology fields. Institutes of higher education are also using esports as a recruitment tool. 

With so many potential advantages, more and more school districts and institutes of higher education are implementing esports programs. But these initiatives require significant funding to be successful. In this article we'll explore the difficulties education organizations can face when seeking external funding for their esports projects, as well as potential opportunities. 


Your school may be interested in starting an esports club or a competitive team or even potentially esports curriculum or degree programs. While grant makers appreciate enthusiasm, they are a bit more cautious about esports for a variety of reasons. Factors include alignment with their current funding pnont1es and allowable costs. However, there are also other reasons that they are hesitant to fund esports projects. Understanding the following roadblocks could help you convince them of the importance and relevance of your esports project. 

  1. Federal and State Regulations: Grant opportunities coming from public sources have strict requirements about allowable uses of funds. For education entities, this means that funding must be used for mission-driven activities like student learning outcomes, workforce development, and research. Competitive sports teams (and even clubs) are viewed as tertiary functions of the institution and cannot draw from general institutional funds. For most schools, these departments {like Athletics or Residential Life) must be self-supporting through fees, ticket sales, or donors.
  2. Competition-Oriented Activity Limitations: Federal and state grants do not usually fund competition­oriented activities. In the few instances where these grant makers are funding competition, the projects are focused on understanding how the competition can facilitate student learning outcomes or workforce readiness initiatives. For example, they may fund a robot battle tournament because success in the competition is clearly tied to ability to understand and apply engineering principles.
  3. Lack of Long-Term Efficacy Research: Grant makers are usually hesitant to invest in any activities that they view as being potentially risky or a fad. They instead focus on initiatives that have longitudinal, peer­reviewed research validating the approach. It's possible that as more research becomes available exploring the impact of esports on student success, the strength of the esports industry, or the ability of esports to facilitate future employment, grant makers may be more interested in considering esports proposals.


When esports first started to become popular a decade ago, there were several corporate-sponsored competitive grant opportunities designed to increase awareness. In many instances, schools were given free products or team start­up costs. Now, education organizations have demonstrated that they're interested in esports and are willing to pay to form and develop programs on their own, resulting in many of these grant programs being phased out. However, there are still options available for funding your esports projects! 

  1. Reposition Your Project Away from Competition: Think about the learning or workforce development initiatives your esports plans will facilitate. Grant makers are weary about funding competition, but they are often much more comfortable funding the same necessary line items (such as equipment and staff training) when the project is framed as helping to meet mission-driven goals for your school. For example, studying esports may allow students to better understand game design and user experience concerns, which could then go into a broader computer science curriculum. This justification will be more appealing to grant makers than a request for esports funding to help your school win league titles.
  2. Consider Foundation Funding: Foundations are not constrained by the same regulations around use of public funds, so they are often open to a wider variety of projects. It's important to focus on finding the right grant maker by making connections between your project and the mission of the funder. For esports initiatives, look for foundations interested in supporting education organizations with specific, relevant education goals. For example, you may want to look for a foundation that focuses on computer programming, journalism, or event planning. As is the case with federal and state funders, you should consider the skills your students will be developing as part of their esports experience and focus your justification on those applications. 
  3. Seek Alternative External Funding: If your esports program is not going to include any focus on educational outcomes, you may have more success considering other sources of external funding outside of grants. One of the most popular approaches is sponsorship. Usually, the sponsor wants something in exchange for their investment, such as their name and logo on the team's jersey. Think about what you need and choose potential sponsors based on those needs. Determine ahead of time what you're willing to give in exchange for their donation. Your school's fundraising team may also be able to help with these efforts.

Regardless of how you approach seeking external funding for your esports initiatives, many of the skills you've developed from doing other grant seeking still applies for these projects. Make sure you are finding grant makers that align with your desired interests and outcomes. For esports, it's especially important to brainstorm before you explore the funding landscape to understand possible mission­driven education goals that your project may impact. Once you've chosen a grant, align your final project and budget with the priorities of that grant maker and their allowable costs. Finally, don't forget to thank the grant maker after receiving a decision and keep them updated on how your project progresses if you are funded!