Riot recently revealed their latest plans for their collegiate programming. Riot’s collegiate team offers a program that was, up until recently, called “Collegiate League of Legends”. Starting in 2016, the program will now be called “University League of Legends” and stylized as “uLoL”.
The program has enabled students at higher education institutions to form League of Legends clubs and register them with Riot for resources. These resources have traditionally included some swag, marketing materials, and a chance to apply for the Collegiate Summit (a gathering of the most promising Collegiate Organizers at the Riot HQ). After that, the clubs are pretty much left to do their own thing. Oh, and of course, there is the NACC, the North American Collegiate Championship.
Or at least, there was the NACC. For the 2016 spring semester, the NACC has been rebranded into the “uLoL Campus Series”. The official word on this name change tells us that its been brought about partially to curb confusion. The acronym “NACC” has been used by many other organizations, including some that already have a presence in US collegiate athletics. Very confusing indeed. It’s also believed that the rebranding is associated with the push to make collegiate eSports, specifically League of Legends, more marketable as a spectator sport. This is an idea that compliments a sentiment that was shared in the 2015 Collegiate Summit; collegiate eSports are the future of eSports.
Then in November, Riot took a firmer grasp on the reigns of the tournament’s qualifiers than they had in previous years. In the past, there had been several different ways to make it into the NACC including via play in other national leagues such as IvyLoL and CSL. But not this year. Instead, Riot partnered with Well Played to hold the qualifiers. And according the the rules of the NACC, the members of any team that qualified can no longer play in other national tournaments. This was a move that left a lot of collegiate LoL teams participating in CSL in a jam, as teams were now losing players exactly halfway through a season. Though there have been gripes about this ruling, it does help to ensure the sanctity of the uLoL Campus Series.
Another change to the tournament is that viewers will now be able to watch more than just the final match. There will actually be weekly matches broadcasted on LoLeSports.com. It’s like the LCS, or the Challenger Series, but with college kids. Which is funny, as that actually makes some of the players older. But as I stated earlier, this is likely part of Riot’s plan to make collegiate eSports just as spectator worthy as other collegiate sports. They’ve identified the inability of last year’s NACC to be broadcasted as a flaw and have opted to have less schools participate in order to make it more accessible to viewers.
From here, we can expect to see the regular season for what Riot has dubbed the “32 best best college teams” starting in January following a round robin format. And the rest of the format follows as such:
As these college students progress through the series, it’ll be interesting to see if they can garner a viewership that can rival that of the pros. Where as collegiate competition is often the path to professional competition in traditional sports, that has not has been the case for eSports. Most professional e-athletes have even forgone schooling to participate in competitive play. They even often retire at an age that is younger than most college graduates. This reformatting of the NACC could be the first step in aligning eSports with traditional sports in terms of talent flow and if its successful, it could dramatically alter the face of professional eSports.
For Riot’s official announcement, look here.