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Inaugural College Combine Proves Esports is a Force to be Reckoned With

7 Nov, 2020

By: Michael Popke

As one of the biggest indications yet that colleges and universities are taking esports seriously, representatives of more than 65 colleges and universities that offer gaming scholarships attended the inaugural (and virtual) Esports Combine 2020.

Over three days in mid-October, more than 1,000 players participated in skills challenges and virtual panels and workshops featuring coaches who zeroed in on what they look for in players and recruiting experts who provided insight about the recruiting process for gamers and their parents.

Sponsored by Indiana Esports Development LLC (created by Indiana Sports Corp) and the GYO Score gaming platform, the Esports Combine bills itself as “the world’s first college recruiting and networking event dedicated to connecting aspiring esports players and video game fans with programs that will prepare gamers for success.” As part of the entry, all players submitted detailed surveys that included academic information and gaming profiles.

“As it stands, there are approximately 175 colleges and universities that field esports teams at the non-varsity and varsity levels,” according to esportsobserver.com. “Some of those 175 schools have active programs that award scholarship money to players attending the institution.”

Gaming and esports news website CheckpointXP notes that the combine is “not unlike what the NFL/NBA does for college kids going pro. One of the biggest questions looming over esports right now is how do we replace talent. As it stands, the first wave of American esports stars is entering their late 20s and early 30s. Esports organizations and college teams need systems in place to replenish their ranks. The Esports Combine is looking to become a major part of that process.”

“Esports currently doesn’t have a similar path to pros in the same vein that traditional sports does, and we’re changing that now,” Derek Pew, Chief Executive Officer of Harena Data, which launched the GYO platform in 2019 using artificial intelligence to analyze data among players, said in a news release issued earlier this year. “By centralizing one main stage for athletes to shine, we’re removing the barrier that many athletes face in today’s industry and giving them all an equal playing field.

“This event is creating a positive impact for the global esports industry as well as bringing a huge economic gain to everyone involved,” added Ryan Vaughn, President of Indiana Sports Corp. “Esports is a multi-billion dollar industry and we’re just scratching the surface on the trickle-down effects this will have on players, teams, communities, and organizations. For Indiana, this will move the needle towards making us a keystone of the esports industry.”

Originally intended to be an in-person event held in Indianapolis, the Esports Combine was converted to a virtual event due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to the event’s website, organizers are hoping to host an in-person event in 2021.

By then, the college esports landscape might have undergone considerable growth. On Oct. 28, Learfield IMG College, a leading media and technology services company in intercollegiate athletics, announced it was partnering with Electronic Arts to create a new college esports league. Dubbed “Level Next,” it is expected to support more than 2,500 schools, according to a statement issued by both companies. The multiyear partnership will feature at least one of EA’s esports franchises.

“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,” Cole Gahagan, Learfield IMG College President and Chief Executive Officer, said in a statement.

He added that the EA Sports network will allow the league to tap into 1.5 million students and “deliver an entirely new experience to over 185 million nationwide college sports fans.”

Level Next is structured to accelerate collegiate esports growth by unifying competitive play for all college students and, for the first time, allowing students to officially represent their schools on the road to a national championship, league officials say. Level Next will host multiple seasons each year and feature various competitive game titles from different publishers.

“Until now, collegiate esports has been primarily small-scale, community-based and fragmented,” said Todd Sitrin, Senior Vice President and General Manager of EA Competitive Gaming Entertainment. “This program will bring the excitement and camaraderie of college competition to a new level.”

The new league is wasting no time. Competition kicked off this past Monday with the Fall Champions Series featuring EA SPORTS Madden NFL 21. Registration is open to all college students currently attending a four-year accredited university. According to a news release, the competition will follow an eight-week format, with a regular season, playoffs and a championship.

Over three days in mid-October, more than 1,000 players participated in skills challenges and virtual panels and workshops featuring coaches who zeroed in on what they look for in players and recruiting experts who provided insight about the recruiting process for gamers and their parents.

Sponsored by Indiana Esports Development LLC (created by Indiana Sports Corp) and the GYO Score gaming platform, the Esports Combine bills itself as “the world’s first college recruiting and networking event dedicated to connecting aspiring esports players and video game fans with programs that will prepare gamers for success.” As part of the entry, all players submitted detailed surveys that included academic information and gaming profiles.

“As it stands, there are approximately 175 colleges and universities that field esports teams at the non-varsity and varsity levels,” according to esportsobserver.com. “Some of those 175 schools have active programs that award scholarship money to players attending the institution.”

Gaming and esports news website CheckpointXP notes that the combine is “not unlike what the NFL/NBA does for college kids going pro. One of the biggest questions looming over esports right now is how do we replace talent. As it stands, the first wave of American esports stars is entering their late 20s and early 30s. Esports organizations and college teams need systems in place to replenish their ranks. The Esports Combine is looking to become a major part of that process.”

“Esports currently doesn’t have a similar path to pros in the same vein that traditional sports does, and we’re changing that now,” Derek Pew, Chief Executive Officer of Harena Data, which launched the GYO platform in 2019 using artificial intelligence to analyze data among players, said in a news release issued earlier this year. “By centralizing one main stage for athletes to shine, we’re removing the barrier that many athletes face in today’s industry and giving them all an equal playing field.

“This event is creating a positive impact for the global esports industry as well as bringing a huge economic gain to everyone involved,” added Ryan Vaughn, President of Indiana Sports Corp. “Esports is a multi-billion dollar industry and we’re just scratching the surface on the trickle-down effects this will have on players, teams, communities, and organizations. For Indiana, this will move the needle towards making us a keystone of the esports industry.”

Originally intended to be an in-person event held in Indianapolis, the Esports Combine was converted to a virtual event due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to the event’s website, organizers are hoping to host an in-person event in 2021.

By then, the college esports landscape might have undergone considerable growth. On Oct. 28, Learfield IMG College, a leading media and technology services company in intercollegiate athletics, announced it was partnering with Electronic Arts to create a new college esports league. Dubbed “Level Next,” it is expected to support more than 2,500 schools, according to a statement issued by both companies. The multiyear partnership will feature at least one of EA’s esports franchises.

“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,” Cole Gahagan, Learfield IMG College President and Chief Executive Officer, said in a statement.

He added that the EA Sports network will allow the league to tap into 1.5 million students and “deliver an entirely new experience to over 185 million nationwide college sports fans.”

Level Next is structured to accelerate collegiate esports growth by unifying competitive play for all college students and, for the first time, allowing students to officially represent their schools on the road to a national championship, league officials say. Level Next will host multiple seasons each year and feature various competitive game titles from different publishers.

“Until now, collegiate esports has been primarily small-scale, community-based and fragmented,” said Todd Sitrin, Senior Vice President and General Manager of EA Competitive Gaming Entertainment. “This program will bring the excitement and camaraderie of college competition to a new level.”

The new league is wasting no time. Competition kicked off this past Monday with the Fall Champions Series featuring EA SPORTS Madden NFL 21. Registration is open to all college students currently attending a four-year accredited university. According to a news release, the competition will follow an eight-week format, with a regular season, playoffs and a championship.

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