The Big Ten Network (BTN), a joint venture between the Big Ten Conference and Fox Networks, has partnered with Riot Games to launch a season-long BTN League of Legends tournament on January 30 on BTN2Go and with the championship game televised on March 27.

ESports clubs from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Purdue, Rutgers and Wisconsin will compete in the inaugural season. Teams will compete in the BTN East and West, playing a best-of-3 round-robin against division foes. At the end of the round-robin, the top four teams from each division will compete in a single elimination playoff bracket and the East and West champions will face each other in the BTN League of Legends Championship.

Riot is offering scholarships to the schools participating through a partnership with Scholarship America. Erin Harvego, vice president of marketing for BTN, told [a]listdaily that each school will receive six $5,000 scholarships for this trial season.

The BTN League of Legends champion will then compete in the League of Legends College Championship, which features the best collegiate teams from across the continent to determine the overall League of Legends collegiate champion. Riot has been awarding scholarship prize money to the winners of this college tournament for several years now.

Harvego said this BTN league is the result of an experiment with Riot at PAX East last year, where Michigan State took on Ohio State in League of Legends at the BTN Invitational.

“We became familiar with eSports a few years ago through some Big 10 students wanting to host a League of Legends tournament with some other schools,” Harvego said. “Through that initial conversation, I was introduced to Riot, and we did a test at PAX East that went so well that we decided to do this longer-form pilot program.”

Harvego hopes to build the foundation of a successful platform for future eSports intercollegiate competition.

“We hope to learn a lot in this pilot season, including what the best format is to reach the largest amount of people,” Harvego said.

This marks the first time Riot has partnered with a national collegiate network for an official season-long competition. The game has become especially popular on college campuses, where players have been showing their dedication and drive in the Campus Series, a season-long competition featuring more than 200 university clubs, including more than a dozen programs that offer scholarships, playing across the US and Canada.

Harvego was at PAX East last year to witness the passion and excitement that League of Legends opens up. The recent League of Legends World Championship was held at Staples Center last Halloween, the second time that stadium hosted a sold-out event.

Considering that Big Ten schools sell out massive football stadiums and pack basketball arenas, could college eSports find a larger home in the future?

“We’re not sure right now what role stadiums could play in eSports,” Harvego said. “This year, we’ll take our time and figure out our long-term strategy once we have some data.”

To date, Harvego hasn’t had any negative feedback about the tournament. Additionally, the network hasn’t had to face the question that those not familiar with eSports often ask: How is playing video games a sport?

“We’ll always have basketball, wrestling and football fans because everyone has different interests, but there definitely can be a place for eSports and traditional sports in college,” Harvego said.

While eSports currently attracts a younger audience base than traditional college sports, it also opens up a brand new audience for colleges to market directly to.

Harvego said eSports also introduces new consumers for brands and sponsors to reach through BTN.

“ESports opens up more possibilities for us with a whole new audience,” Harvego said. “This is something from a network perspective that is great programming and we want it to flourish and test out this year and figure out best practices.”

One thing Harvego said BTN is currently working through is how to explain League of Legends to a more traditional sports fan base.

When asked if there’s potential to add other popular games such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive to BTN, Harvego admitted, “I’m a rookie in this eSports space, let’s see how it goes and figure out where to take it from there.”

The BTN eSports league is a network initiative and it not affiliated with the Big Ten Conference.

Learn everything you need to know to invest in today’s fastest-growing media channel—Competitive Gaming and eSports on 2.16.17 in Los Angeles. Go to for more info.