October 30, 2020
Electronic Arts and university licensing company Learfield IMG College teamed up to debut Level Next, an intercollegiate eSports league that will involve up to 2,500 colleges. The league aims to “unify competitive play at universities,” and will kick off on November 9 with “Madden NFL 21.” The first eight-week tournament will offer a $150,000 prize pool. At least one of EA’s eSports franchises will be featured each season. Level Next will host multiple seasons each year and feature games from different publishers.
VentureBeat reports that EA senior vice president Todd Sitrin said that the result will be “the largest national collegiate eSports league” that will centralize “competition for students across the United States.” The college market for eSports has been “largely untapped because of the fragmented nature of competitive gaming at college programs.” In 2018, Learfield and IMG College merged to address the issue.
“They are a rights holder, representing a lot of colleges,” said Sitrin. “This is a powerhouse organization.” In addition to airing the matches on Twitch, Learfield IMG College has its own broadcast network. “We think there will be an opportunity to reach a broader audience, and we have a very accessible ‘Madden NFL’ game,” Sitrin said. “That’s a good recipe for the growth of this program.”
The league is “open to all college students at participating schools and will feature teams of three, or possibly four, players,” and EA is “trying to match the normal collegiate football schedule.”
Esports Insider reports that, “game publishers know that the next generation of eSports stars are training right now in high school and college.” “It’s no surprise that EA would target the college demographic, especially since over 100 colleges now offer varsity eSports programs,” it adds. Level Next “is designed to become the ‘first eSports ecosystem that integrates the best of college fandom through an easy-to-follow, centralized format’.”
In its press release, Learfield IMG College and Electronic Arts note that their multiyear partnership “acts as the official home for EA’s collegiate eSports champions.”
“The creation of Level Next is an unprecedented opportunity for all of our partners within the collegiate ecosystem — from brands who wish to target this unique and fast-growing audience, to universities who aim to tap into significant engagement being generated in and around eSports,” said Learfield IMG College president and chief executive Cole Gahagan.
The release states that, “this league structure is primed to accelerate collegiate eSports growth by unifying competitive play for all college students and, for the first time, allows students to officially represent their schools on the road to a national championship.”
Learfield IMG College is the official rights holder for 200+ universities and conferences, and the EA collaboration “will establish a much-needed structure within the collegiate eSports ecosystem and help accelerate ‘Madden NFL’ competitive gaming popularity.”