Riot Games expanding into collegiate esports after NCAA bows out

Steven R. May 19, 2019

The NCAA isn’t interested in collegiate esports at this time and other companies are stepping in to fill that void.

One such company is Riot Games. According to SBJ Daily, the publisher is making its own push into the field by creating a standalone governing body for collegiate League of Legends. Whether this is viable in the long term remains up for debate.

The move comes after the NCAA Board of Governors could not come to a decision on whether it should move forward on collegiate esports in a meeting held on April 30. The committee voted 6-6 on a motion to begin forming plans for expansion into esports. This resulted in the topic being shelved indefinitely, leaving the NCAA’s future in the field uncertain.

Esports has become a field of interest for many schools in the last year with colleges and universities offering scholarships to skilled players and hiring coaching staffs to guide them. While there has been some investment, there hasn’t been much actual competition, with no league or governing body to bring schools together to compete and little guidance from established esports institutions.

There have been a number of initiatives on this front ranging from ESL starting a collegiate league to Blizzard’s Heroes of the Dorm, but none have truly taken root. Riot has dabbled in the field as well, sponsoring some endeavors while hosting boot camps to connect prospects with professional coaches and teams, but these efforts are still in their infancy.

Though NCAA Director Mark Emmert stated that building an esports program was among the association’s highest priorities, the idea of NCAA esports was met with resistance on both sides. NCAA officials were skeptical of the athletic legitimacy of esports, while esports fans resisted the NCAA’s practice of actively preventing athletes from making money or gaining sponsorships when professional level talent could potentially be making millions of dollars.

Riot Games stepping in to handle League of Legends would offer the best of both worlds, allowing players to reap the rewards of competition while having an entity with the right tools to run a league. That said, there are a slew of hurdles for Riot to overcome.

There is still minimal infrastructure when it comes to collegiate esports, with a small number of schools participating and little reason for legitimate talent to not go directly to professional teams. Worse for Riot, should collegiate esports ever start generating serious revenue, the NCAA is positioned to take it over.

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