esports, ESPN
Students compete in the High School Esports Invitational (HSEI) 2017 at Robert Morris University in Chicago on May 6, 2017. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)
Youth Business

ESPN investing in esports with new championship

Why this matters

The NCAA has been reluctant to embrace esports, but ESPN has potentially opened the floodgates for esports with a new championship

The Collegiate Esports Championship (CEC), the first event of its kind, will be one of ESPN’s biggest investments in esports having hundreds of schools across North America trying to qualify to compete in the semifinals and championship in Houston, May 10-12 of 2019.

The NCAA and esports are still on incompatible planes as the amateur guidelines, player codes of conduct and gender equality rules required by Title IX prevent reaching a common ground, although this event by ESPN could be the turning point.

“As universities continue to grow their esports programs at the varsity, non-varsity and club levels, we’re proud to be providing a platform for national exposure and recognition of some of the most talented players in the collegiate space,” said John Lasker, vice president of digital media programming for ESPN. “Through our collaboration with top publishers in the industry, players will be able to showcase their talent in high-level competition on some of the most prominent esports titles.”

The list of games scheduled to be contested in Houston are:

  • Overwatch                                                
  • Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition        
  • Hearthstone .                                                                      
  • Starcraft I                                                                                             
  • And Heroes of the Storm                                                

**All images via ESPN Events

The event will have qualifying rounds conducted by both Tespa, a network of more than 270 chapters at colleges across the United States and Canada to promote gaming culture, and Collegiate Starleague (CSL) to determine which teams will be featured in the live local area network (LAN) for the championships that will be streamed live through various platforms.  Overwatch matches, in particular, will be streamed through Twitch TV during the event.

Teams will compete with hopes of winning scholarships as prizes, in what is an adaption to the NCAA’s amateurism laws, which prohibit college athletes from “accepting prize money above your expense,” and “accepting payments or preferential benefits for playing sports.”

This is a new twist to the traditional collegiate championship award. It creates opportunity for esports athletes who aren’t on scholarship compared to the traditional NCAA athlete.

The most potential skepticism about the tournament is its compliance with Title IX rules; esports face more of a challenge regarding giving both genders equal opportunity.

But leading up to the championships, ESPN has expressed a clear interest in esports. The company launched a weekly television show “Collegiate Esports Championship: Countdown” in preparation for the event.

In addition to being aired on ESPN Esports, the show will also be available on Twitch, YouTube,  Twitter and ESPN3.

ESPN’s commitment to esports is the result of esports rapid rise and promising future in the sports world and sports economy.

Trej Bell is a junior sports journalism major at Arizona State University