This year’s USC Games Expo saw something different, but not new: a League of Legends competition compiled of PAC-12 schools. Facing off against schools like UCSC and UCR, USC joined many other schools in creating a gaming landscape unsupported by major collegiate sports organizations.
In a collegiate esports scene where an increasing number of schools are deciding to create competitive teams, the need to create gaming leagues and regulations that hold the schools accountable is ever-increasing. As of 2019, over 400 colleges across America have varsity teams dedicated to esports. However, in 2019, the NCAA Board of Governors voted not to formally oversee esports in the same manner as any other sport. This unanimous decision came about due to lack of faith in NCAA regulations to adequately support esports as a unique sport in and of itself as well as the adoption of Title IX regulations within the new playing field.
The Title IX amendment is a federal civil rights law mandating that student athletes are not allowed to be discriminated against based on their gender. While schools make up for this issue in sports by creating separate men’s and women’s teams, esports creates a more fickle case. Competitive gaming on both collegiate and professional levels are dominated by men, which leads to predominantly male teams.
While the world of competitive gaming creeps closer toward the mainstream, the NCAA’s decision not to oversee collegiate esports comes with repercussions. Due to schools not being able to formally compete in conferences like the PAC-12 or Big 10, this creates an issue regarding match set-up. Creating a bracket system for over 400 teams is as unsustainable as it is unwieldy. Though matches can completely be held online, the movement of esports into the mainstream requires a certain aspect of mimicry toward current sports.
While NCAA Division 1 sports like football and basketball boast 11 divisions to split schools into, collegiate esports is not without its own organizations that help to settle the murky waters of competition. Current esports divisions include TESPA and NACE; a good start, but nowhere near enough to adequately oversee and support the increasing number of schools that are branching into esports.
However, some players are hesitant to welcome the NCAA into the folds of collegiate esports. USC League of Legends player Brandon “Gunning” Gunning says “Esports should do everything possible to stay unaffiliated with the NCAA. Being unaffiliated allows for much more freedom on the parts of the schools.”
It is due to the lack of effort presented by official collegiate sports organizations, schools are taking matters into their own hands. As mentioned before, USC has already proven that formal matches between schools can and will take places even without strict organizational guidelines. The USC Games Expo presented League of Legends matches between schools, and SC’s own Annenberg Media also recently hosted an informal Valorant match between long-term rivals USC and UCLA.