The Big Ten Conference is pushing deeper into competitive videogaming, working with Riot Games Inc to expand competition between campuses across the Midwest at least through 2019.
The partnership builds on a pilot version launched last year, in which clubs at 12 schools competed in Riot’s League of Legends, the most popular computer game in the world. Matches were broadcast and streamed live via the Big Ten Network, a joint venture between the conference and 21st Century Fox Inc.
Despite the rapid growth of eSports – the industry is expected to hit the US$1.5bil (RM5.98bil) mark by 2020 – the Big Ten is the only major sports conference to embrace collegiate gamers as athletes. “Riot wants to make League of Legends a sport that lasts for generations, something the Big Ten has accomplished in several sports already,” said Michael Sherman, who runs Riot’s collegiate efforts.
The network will handle production for the league, including negotiations for a digital streaming partner. Riot will continue to fund scholarships through the schools, a $35,000 payment per institution to be divvied up among its gamers.
The next six months will test the viability of eSports among traditional sports fans. The NBA’s virtual league is scheduled to launch in early 2018, as are new franchised leagues from Riot and Activision Blizzard Inc, both of which feature tens of millions in investment from team owners across major league sports. — Bloomberg