Playfly Sports-owned CSL Esports has partnered together with non-profit National Association of Collegiate Esports, esports infrastructure company Nerd Street Gamers, and software company Mainline to launch the largest collegiate esports league in North America: the NACE Starleague. The new entity will feature many participating schools from the established leagues operated by CSL and NACE including University of North Carolina, Louisiana State University, Boise State University, and Villanova.
Matches will be run on Mainline’s tournament platform, and Nerd Street will oversee broadcast and live event operations. Additionally, participating teams will have access to Nerd Street’s Localhost gaming facilities to use as a competition space during their match times.
The league will host multiple tiers of competition ranging from introductory skill levels to school-sanctioned varsity teams. Registration for varsity events will run through NACE, with all competing schools at that level requiring an NACE membership.
“We’ve put together four partners that are now invested in helping these programs and students grow and validating the student athletes within college esports,” CSL Esports CEO Rob Johnson told Sports Business Journal.
The competitive year for the NACE Starleague will be divided into two seasons in an effort to provide multiple entry points throughout the year for new students as well as new schools and clubs looking to enter the space.
The vision Johnson lays out for NACE Starleague is where he thinks collegiate esports should be in the next 3-5 years: “every school has the resources to have an [esports] program, and to have that grow. And also from a scholarship and career development perspective to bring that education, healthiness of play, and oversight into what it means to be a student athlete within esports.”
While the merging of two major tournament offerings in the collegiate space has raised some concerns about the partnership related to the restriction of access to competition, Johnson stated that this is not the goal of the league. “We’re not in this to wall off any gardens or to make sure that players have less opportunity, we want to make sure there is more opportunity.” He said that the league will not seek exclusive deals with game publishers.
“What we did here is take two leagues that have been operating side by side and coordinating schedules, and now we’re building a bigger media property. And with Nerd Street bringing the cameras and the production back to in-person [events], now we have a more watchable product.”
With this “more watchable product,” CSL will look to its parent company Playfly Sports to aid in the generation of media and sponsorship deals for the league. Playfly is an active player in the traditional scholastic athletics media rights and advertising space, and through CSL and this new league will look to expand those efforts into esports.
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