Some Ohio State students are going to be on the Big Ten Network playing a game some wouldn’t expect to see on the network: “League of Legends.”
Although BTN primarily focuses on broadcasting athletic competitions, the network is set to broadcast coverage of an invitational series between OSU and Michigan State’s “League” teams, which will be on Friday at the Penny Arcade Expo East in Boston.
Jordan Maleh, the director of digital and consumer marketing with BTN, said in an email the network has been looking into esports, or the competitive play of video games, for a little over a year now.
The BTN decided to partner with Riot Games, the creators of “League,” because there are official “League” or esports clubs at all but one of the Big Ten schools, Maleh said. Trey Keeler, the brand manager for University League of Legends at Riot, confirmed that Nebraska is the only Big Ten school to have not registered a “League” club with Riot.
“We realize that we are not the expert here, so we knew we would be relying … heavily on their input,” Maleh said. “From our perspective, it made sense to work with the best in the business.”
“League” is a free-to-play online game that pits two teams of five players against each other in a battle arena, with the matches lasting roughly 40 minutes. The teams compete in matches of strategy, skill and quick thinking to destroy their opponent’s base.
Since 2012, Riot has been supporting collegiate “League” student organizations in America and Canada, with the tournaments called the North American Collegiate Championship. In January, it rebranded the collegiate scene to University League of Legends, and the tournament for this year is called the uLoL Campus Series.
This year’s tournament featured 32 college teams that played against each other, and the Final Four are set to play at PAX East to compete for more than $500,000 in scholarships, according to a BTN press release. The invitational between OSU and Michigan State is separate from the Final Four, and that match-up is scheduled to be held before the campus series finals.
Keeler said that, in the past two years, he has been working with the company, he has seen collegiate esports grow from independent groups of student organizations on campuses to a sprawling student-led network that encompasses many schools, providing students with more opportunities to play the game.
“It’s been really exciting through a lot of those efforts — both Riot and students that have been doing a lot of these things — to have interest from someone like the Big Ten Network,” he said. “Things like this, whether it’s with the Big Ten Network or with other partners, going forward in the future is something that we’re extremely interested in and excited about.”
Although the future of collaboration between BTN and Riot isn’t set in stone, this weekend’s event will allow both organizations to test the waters regarding more esports content on the collegiate sports network.
“It’s our opportunity to get our feet wet and see what works, what doesn’t and what future opportunities may exist,” Maleh said. “I will say that we are enthusiastic about the possibility of working with Riot Games and uLoL in the future.”
Keeler said that this is the first time the gaming company has partnered with a collegiate sports conference network, and the company would be interested in working more with networks in the future with a plan to help a new audience understand the game.
“Moving forward, like if we were going to do more (broadcasts) with the Big Ten Network or anything like that, educating a new audience is definitely something we’re going to actively be thinking about,” he said.
Nic Re, OSU’s “League” team manager and a third-year in computer science and engineering, said that although the team doesn’t play the game for recognition, it is nice for them to receive some attention for their accomplishments.
“You get more benefits the more recognizable you are, so this is going to really help us strive toward making it a club sport and then down the road maybe a (varsity) sport,” he said.
Re said the team is prepared for the invitational, especially considering that OSU beat Michigan State in the uLoL Campus Series playoffs earlier in the year. To illustrate the point, he said that a player said during a practice session last week, “At no point should Michigan State be able to beat us right now.”
The OSU and Michigan State players will have all their travelling expenses paid by Riot, Keeler said.
He added that he hopes students are more likely to support their “League” teams because the teams represent the school, similar to the football and basketball teams.
“That’s what’s really interesting about college sports, is that college sports has some attributes that professional sports don’t have,” he said. “It really is that tribalism and college fandom and pride that comes from your academic institution.”