The Big Ten is the oldest Division I collegiate athletic conference in the United States, and arguably the most influential on the college landscape. On April 22, it will make a pioneering move into the world of esports when two of its premier universities, Michigan State and Ohio State, clash in League of Legends at the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX East) in Boston.
"Thirteen of the 14 Big Ten schools have official clubs dedicated to League of Legends and esports, and five of those clubs made the uLoL Campus Series, which is more than any other conference," said Jordan Maleh, director of digital and consumer marketing for the Big Ten Network.
"Given the success of the teams and the incredible popularity of League, this made a great deal of sense as a starting point for the Big Ten Network. Riot Games is a leader in esports, and collectively we're hoping to elevate uLoL to a larger audience."
The BTN Invitational: A University League of Legends Event goes live Friday, April 22, at noon ET in the League of Legends show-floor booth. The match will be streamed on btn2go.com and lolesports.com. It will also be broadcast on the Big Ten Network on Monday, April 25, at 7 p.m. ET.
The games will be called by Riot's pro shoutcasters, who will also cover the uLoL Campus Series finals that weekend featuring Georgia Tech, Maryland, Robert Morris and the University of British Columbia.
"The Big Ten is a juggernaut in the college sports space, so their interest in working with Riot helps us feel like we're on the right track with our uLoL program," said Michael Sherman, Riot's college esports program manager.
"Riot is committed to bringing a high-quality competitive experience to the college level -- for both the collegiate players themselves, as well as the millions of fans watching the collegiate broadcasts. So working with the Big Ten Network is another step towards firmly establishing uLoL into the college sports ecosystem."
Sherman continued: "We want League of Legends to evolve into a global sport that lasts for generations -- like a way of life or a pastime, something that stays with you. So, in regards to collegiate esports matching the pro circuit, I think of the collegiate level as a distinct level of competition that stands on its own -- much like the NBA and the NCAA. Some basketball fans prefer to watch the NBA Finals, others prefer March Madness, and many enjoy both. That's how we think of League Champion Series (LCS) and the uLoL Campus Series."
Nicolas Re, a League of Legends player on the Ohio State team, understands the significance of this development.
"Getting the Big Ten Network involved in League of Legends is a major breakthrough for the entire collegiate esports scene," Re said. "Here at The Ohio State University, we have a student body of more than 60,000 students and of those 60,000, probably under a 1,000 of them know that we even have esports teams.
"With the Big Ten Network getting involved in League of Legends I am hopeful that it will help these larger colleges, such as those in the Big Ten, in witnessing, understanding and partaking in the incredibly diverse, competitive and passionate community that is collegiate esports."