Game publisher Electronic Arts and intercollegiate athletics media and tech firm Learfield IMG College announced a new multiyear partnership on Wednesday to create Level Next, an esports league that hopes to reach more than 2,500 schools.
Level Next will serve as the official vehicle for EA's college esports championships and will always feature one of EA's brands. The partnership begins Nov. 9 with the creation of the Fall Champions Series with EA Sports Madden NFL 21 and a $150,000 prize pool.
The Fall Champions Series will have an eight-week schedule with a regular season, playoffs and a championship. The announcement said more than $30,000 of the total prize pool would be awarded directly to campus esports programs through a social marketing competition.
Level Next hopes to become the largest intercollegiate esports league and to become the first to utilize official school branding. Level Next hopes to sponsor multiple seasons each year and eventually plans to feature "competitive" game titles from different publishers.
Currently, 175 colleges and universities are members of the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) and offer officially recognized varsity esports programs. More than 300 schools across the U.S. and Canada have active Tespa chapters -- officially recognized student gaming clubs.
EA and Learfield IMG hope to see those modest numbers blossom. Much like in traditional sports, esports organizers are now looking to schools and colleges to help create the next generation of playing talent across multiple gaming titles.
"Until now, collegiate esports has been primarily small-scale, community-based and fragmented," Todd Sitrin, senior vice president and general manager of EA Competitive Gaming Entertainment, said in a statement. "This collaboration will establish a much-needed structure within the collegiate esports ecosystem and help accelerate Madden NFL competitive gaming popularity."
--Field Level Media