Learfield and EA to Launch Largest-Ever College Esports League

Collegiate sports marketing company Learfield IMG College and video game publisher Electronic Arts will launch Level Next, the largest intercollegiate esports league in the US, this fall.

Level Next Will Support 2,500 Schools

Level Next will launch on November 9 with the Fall Champions Series, a nationwide tournament featuring EA SPORTS’ Madden NFL 21 and a $150,000 prize pool. More than $30,000 will be awarded to campus esports programmes, through a social marketing competition.

The league will accommodate 2,500 schools and feature official logos and mascots. It will also include highlight packages, a weekly show, live games and a RedZone-type show leading into the 16-team national championship. Level Next is expected to reach over 185 million college sports fans across the US and 1.5 million college gamers.

Level Next will provide Learfield IMG College and its schools with opportunities to engage its audience and generate revenues from fans and partners, especially as the industry is on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, the league will not become a governing figure of collegiate esports and is solely designed to be a competition platform for college organizations.

The New League Will Bring Structure to College Esports

The collegiate esports ecosystem is fragmented and still small-scale, according to Todd Sitrin, SVP, and GM of EA Competitive Gaming Entertainment. It lacks simplicity and significant partnership deals, with some schools even launching their own esports departments. Publishers know that the next generation of high-level gamers is currently in high school or college, so it does not come as a surprise that EA would focus on the student population.

“The biggest issue was that universities across the country are locked into a complex web of alliances and relationships. That was the biggest barrier. And when we started talking to Learfield IMG College, we realized that they had already circumvented all that.”, Mr Sitrin said.

Level Next is expected to bring a “much-needed” structure to collegiate esports, as well as develop Madden NFL’s competitive popularity. Other EA games will follow and some other publishers could eventually be brought on board.

Cole Gahagan, the CEO and president of Learfield IMG College, said in April that he considers the new league as one of the “biggest things to happen in college sports in quite a while”. EA is the “absolute perfect partner”, he added, as it will bring its innovation strategy and game marketing to the table.

Matches will be streamed on Level Next’s official Twitch channel and on the league website. Learfield IMG College plans to expand to in-person events in the future.

“It is great to see Learfield IMG College and EA come together to launch a very impressive esports tournament. This is a new era for collegiate esports, and the scale of this program will only accelerate its momentum across the country.”, Boise State College Esports Coach of the Year, Dr Chris Haskell, said.

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