Riot Games and the Big Ten Network have announced the BTN Invitational, an upcoming televised League of Legends match between Ohio State and Michigan State. The two teams will play at PAX East in Boston on April 22 at 12 p.m. ET, with livestreaming available on both BTN2Go and LoLeSports.com. The event will also be broadcast on the Big Ten Network the following Mon., April 25, at 7 p.m. ET, making it the first League of Legends event broadcast on a collegiate network.
Thirteen of the 14 Big Ten schools have an official League of Legends club, the most out of any conference participating in the uLoL series. This all started because of a Penn State student group that wanted to run a tournament.
"I think it really was a great partnership for the both of us," Riot Games collegiate lead Michael Sherman said. "I think we were both interested in working with each other but I don't think we realized that. There was actually a student group at Penn State that was looking to run a Big Ten Tournament, and the Big Ten Network got word of it and through that we actually connected to each other and saw that we had a lot of interest in sort of building an event together."
Such a tournament might actually be possible in the future. If Nebraska joins the rest of the conference and starts a League of Legends club, there's potential for some interesting cross-sport events (for example, a game between two schools also playing football that weekend).
"I hope the partnership with Riot is a long-standing partnership," BTN Digital & Consumer Marketing Director Jordan Maleh said. "I think this is the start. Hopefully this is something special, but I think ultimately we [...] take the rivalries we have on the field, on the court, and we can maybe hopefully extend that to eSports."
Riot is also interested in expanding its college program with other schools and conferences, not just within the uLoL structure.
"I think anything's on the table," Sherman said. "We're definitely interested in having conversations with more college conferences. I think right now, collegiate eSports is at such a tipping point that we realize the funnel is sort of opening up and we're sort of approaching it with open arms.
"We want it to be a global sport, so for us we want to approach college as another level of competition in a way that it's recognized as players as being a legitimate sport," Sherman said. "That does definitely mean working with more conferences, having coverage and availability for schools. So, if I go to Penn State, I can watch a Penn State game."
The PAX East weekend also includes the Final Four of the 2016 uLoL Campus Series Finals, featuring Robert Morris, Georgia Tech, the University of British Columbia and the University of Maryland. The semifinals will take place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET on Sat., April 23, leading up to the finals from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sun., April 24.
"We're hoping for really awesome reception from players," Sherman said. "PAX attendees are some of the most passionate people in the community, and I think being able to put on a live event that is there for them will help continue grow college League of Legends, and these are the kind of people who are perfect to go back and want to start clubs at their schools or kind of big larger communities for their universities.
"I think this year is the most competitive year we've ever seen for collegiate eSports, and I'm really excited to see what teams comes out on top."
uLoL replaced the North American Collegiate Championship in Jan. 2016, and the collegiate League of Legends scene continues to grow rapidly, Sherman says.
"I think eSports as a whole had a long time to develop," he said. "LCS was sort of a big step, but when we look at sports as a whole, and sports is something built over hundreds of years into what it is today, and collegiate eSports is trying to cram all the expansion and opportunity into a couple years of growth. We went from just a couple guys playing against each other in their dorms to now over 250 students on League of Legends scholarships."
Riot produced a video showcasing a typical day for a collegiate League of Legends team.
UC Irvine recently became the first public university to offer a League of Legends scholarship.