The Big Ten dipped its toes into the eSports waters last year, live-streaming an Ohio State – Michigan State League of Legends match from PAX East last April (and broadcasting it on tape delay on the Big Ten Network), and now they seem to be jumping in with both feet. As Marc Tracy writes in The New York Times, 12 of the 14 Big Ten schools (all except Nebraska and Penn State) are fielding League of Legends teams this year, and they’ll compete in a structure resembling traditional conference play, with select games broadcast on BTN:
In a recognition of the popularity of e-sports on college campuses, most Big Ten universities will field teams in the multiplayer online game League of Legends and compete in a style resembling conference play, in a partnership with the Big Ten Network.
Besides streaming competitions on the internet, the Big Ten Network will broadcast select games, including the championship in late March, weekly on its cable network, which is available to more than 60 million households nationally.
…In the Big Ten Network’s League of Legends season, teams in the Big Ten’s East and West divisions will play each other in best-of-three, round-robin competitions, and the top four from each division will then enter a single-elimination bracket.
This might make a lot of sense for the Big Ten Network. They could use some more live non-basketball content over the next few months, and college eSports competitions actually perhaps have even more potential to draw in the casual fan than other contests. Some who don’t know much about eSports might still tune in to watch their school face a rival.
It’s interesting to see networks getting more into the eSports game. Turner certainly seems pretty happy with how their ELEAGUE broadcasts have gone, and their approach seems to be gaining some traction. The Pac-12 Networks have also started to get into eSports broadcasts, so this is a rising trend.
As with ELEAGUE, too, BTN has the chance to make this work as both a streaming property and a TV property; it sounds like it will be mostly streaming, but certain marquee matchups and playoff games will be televised, providing a chance to bring this to a bigger audience. We’ll see how this goes for BTN, but it feels like a gamble that’s worth taking. If these broadcasts start to gain a televised following, eSports could be one more bit of important content for the network.