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Big Ten's Big Addition: A "League Of Legends" Tournament

Karen Ducey / League of Legends Facebook
League of Legends is the most popular PC game, and competitive e-sport, in the world.

A typical Big Ten conference matchup might feature the Ohio State and Michigan football teams, or maybe Wisconsin and Penn State facing off in hockey. Later this month, though, the conference is headed in a new direction: video games.

The Big Ten and Riot Games, maker of the popular video game "League of Legends," announced plans last week for the BTN League of Legends season.

The tournament will pit teams from 12 of the conference's 14 schools against each other, with a broadcast on the Big Ten Network's website.

It's the latest development in the growing "e-sports" industry.

"We believe 'League of Legends' can be the next global sport," says Michael Sherman, Riot's associate manager for e-sports. 

Currently, "League of Legends" is the most popular PC game in the world.

Sherman says there are now some 25 colleges and universities offering scholarships to video game players, a trend that's moving from smaller liberal arts colleges to large, public universities.

"And it's not just offering the scholarships. They're actively seeking and recruiting the players to take those scholarships," Sherman says, drawing parallels between e-sports and more established college sports like football and basketball.

For more on the new BTN tournament and the future of college e-sports, Sherman spoke with WOSU's Steve Brown. 

The below is an automated transcript. Please excuse minor typos and errors.

Steve Brown: How exactly will this tournament work?

Michael Sherman: So we'll take 12 of the 14 Big Ten schools, and they'll be participating in their usual East-West divisions against each other for five weeks. And then after that, we'll move into an elimination bracket with the East and West champions facing off against each other.

Steve Brown: E-sports competitions have been around for a few years now. I didn't know it was becoming a college sport, and I read that there are now more than a dozen schools that offer scholarships for e-sports. 

Michael Sherman: Yeah, I think the numbers getting closer and closer to 25 right now. And you're seeing a lot of schools and originally just a lot of smaller, private schools, but now some state schools, that are offering League of Legends scholarships. And it's not just offering the scholarship - they're actively seeking and recruiting the players to take those scholarships.

Steve Brown: This is very much like big time college football.

Michael Sherman: Oh, definitely.

Steve Brown: College football players and basketball players, they lift a lot of weights and do sprints and such. Do you guys train at all? Do you have any hand exercises or eye exercises or anything like that?

Michael Sherman: You know, it's not just hand and eye. In general, you have to be top of your game mentally in order to be a good League of Legends player, and mental requires to have some tough physical attributes, as well. You have to have a good diet, you have to have healthy workout habits, so that your mind is sharp when it actually matters.

Steve Brown: So no Doritos or Mountain Dew.

Michael Sherman: I would avoid it.

Steve Brown: Do you still run into a lot of stereotypes about video games, maybe jokes about never leaving your parents' basement or something like that?

Michael Sherman: I think we run into the stereotype but I think we also are seeing it kind of expand beyond that. Gaming is becoming one of the most social activities and really becoming something that is common. It isn't sort of this small, niche thing. I mean, League of Legends is big and it's an opportunity for all sorts of gamers to get together and celebrate the game with each other. And so I think that these communities' growth help show and bust a lot of the stereotypes that might have existed for gaming.

Steve Brown: What's the end game for this industry? I know that's a big picture question you probably can't answer, but I mean, do you want this - how big can this industry grow on college campuses or generally speaking?

Michael Sherman: From a general point of view, we believe League of Legends can be the next global sport. I mean, we're working really hard in a lot of different ways to help grow that. You've seen that with our professional scene and now with our college level continuing to grow in North America. We're looking at how we can institutionalize League of Legends at the college level.