Electronic Arts (EA) has entered into a multi-year partnership with intercollegiate athletics media and technology firm Learfield IMG College to launch Level Next, an esports league supporting more than 2,500 schools.
Level Next will feature at least one of EA’s esports franchises and acts as the ‘official home for EA’s collegiate esports champions’. The new partnership will kick off November 9th with the Fall Champions Series featuring EA SPORTS Madden NFL 21 and a $150,000 (~£115,000) prize pool.
Cole Gahagan, Learfield IMG College President & CEO commented: “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. Given their unmatched track record of innovation and game marketing, Electronic Arts is the absolute perfect partner to join us in this historic launch, tapping into 1.5 million students, and delivering an entirely new experience to over 185 million nationwide college sports fans.”
According to the companies, Level Next will be the largest intercollegiate esports league and the first to be supported by official school branding. In addition, Level Next is designed to become the ‘first esports ecosystem that integrates the best of college fandom through an easy-to-follow, centralised format’. Specifically, Level Next will host multiple seasons each year and feature various competitive game titles from different publishers.
Todd Sitrin, SVP and GM of EA Competitive Gaming Entertainment added: “Until now, collegiate esports has been primarily small-scale, community-based and fragmented. This program will bring the excitement and camaraderie of college competition to a new level. By leveraging EA’s decades of experience at the intersection of traditional sports and esports, and Learfield IMG College’s unprecedented scale and position as the official rights holder for more than 200 universities, this collaboration will establish a much-needed structure within the collegiate esports ecosystem and help accelerate Madden NFL competitive gaming popularity.”
The Fall Champions Series will follow an eight-week format comprising a regular season, playoffs and a championship, where one team will be crowned champions of their school. More than $30,000 (~£23,000) of the prize pool will be awarded directly to campus esports programmes, through a social marketing competition.
Esports Insider says: 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 programmes.