There is good reason to be excited about the rise of collegiate esports in North America. The link between competition and university is a tradition as old as any - one that is woven between the fabric of everyone’s everyday life from a young age. Its audience is massive; every middle school is littered with Alabama T-Shirts, every mall selling Michigan hats.
To think that esports, no longer a phenomenon but a world-recognized athletic competition, whatever the game, is beginning to attract that audience? Mind blowing.
But with every tide comes complications - something that the folks at Penn State University have found out all too well due to recent controversy.
Last month Riot Games and The Big Ten Network announced the creation of a brand new collegiate esports event involving schools in the Big Ten, the oldest league in college sports. The inaugural season began on Jan. 22 and will culminate in a championship on March 27.
As a big name school in the conference, Penn State’s uLoL Campus Series club expected to participate in the BTN invitational and both sides - PSU and the Big Ten Network - were ready to. However due to difficulties with university licensing, PSU was prevented from competing.
The President of the the esports club, Dylan Beal, took the time to talk with the Collegiate StarLeague to provide insight. According to him, all his administration needed to do was quickly give them the go ahead on their ability to participate.
“All they [Big Ten Network] needed to do was get Penn State administration to sign off on it,” Beal told CSL. “So my advisor found someone at PSU that would be able to sign off on it in athletics.”
Seems simple enough, right? Well, not exactly.
“...they handed it to him and, with the Rose Bowl happening, they felt like they didn’t have enough time to look over everything,” he said.
So because of this PSU had to promptly pull out of the League, a huge disappointment for the team and club.
CSL reached out to the school’s Director of Broadcast Operations, Jim Nachtman, as the club directed. He wasn’t available to reach for comment.
There is a side of the story that needs to be brought to light, however. Due to the sheer size of importance of a University like PSU and the overall weight that the new BTN league holds, one would expect the organizing parties to exhaust their options to create a resolution.
Upon investigation, this actually wasn’t the case.
When asked if BTN had gone through steps with the club to aid in creating a resolution outside of just relaying information, Beal said Big Ten had taken no such steps.
“After we weren’t going to be in it [the BTN League] I did email them to try and get more information about and I had some conversations with them.”
According to Beal the Big Ten Network told the club that they wanted them in the league and to “try next year.” No details on the process that the Big Ten Network went through to settle the matter were disclosed to Beal or his organization.
CSL reached out to the Big Ten Network to get their perspective, but a representative told CSL that they had no additional comments on the matter.
This silence of the network in this matter is deafening given the context. Beal says PSU was one of the original teams that had discussed the invitational a whole year prior. “In January of last year….we talked with them [BTN] and they said they wanted to start up a league and have Big Ten Schools involved,” he said. “Us talking to them kind of got the ball rolling on this thing.”
In essence, this situation shows a problem that the early stages of collegiate esports faces: organizers not fully understanding the landscape and the additional support and representation that collegiate clubs require.
In a market where schools still may be very uninformed about the world of esports - which can lead to administrations like PSU’s making decisions like this because of inexperience with the programs - organizers that are taking steps forward need to be willing and able to be flagships for the entire scene.
As the professional esports scene has proven - the viability of the market in college depends on the knowledge and dependability of organizers- whether it be Riot Games, the Big Ten Network, or even here at CSL. As the realm moves into somewhat uncharted waters, it takes these institutions to steer the course: educating Universities on esports, providing platforms for competition and above all, representing the players and students that look to them.
With this in mind, the growth of the industry in college will be facilitated for years to come.
As for Dylan and PSU, they hope to be an example moving forward.
“I think this experience is really good….if you’re dealing with a larger school it’s very important to have backing behind it….with a bigger University they really need to see the positive impact, you need to show them why this is important.”
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Banner Image Credit: Laura Ingram