Riot and the Big Ten network sign two-year deal

Riot Games has hosted multiple international events, such as the League of Legends World Championship in Beijing, China. The game dev renewed its contract with Big Ten Network on Wednesday, both parties announced. Provided by Riot Games

Riot Games and the Big Ten Network have completed a new two-year deal to host two more seasons of the Big Ten Network League of Legends league in 2018 and 2019, the two parties announced Wednesday.

The league now includes all 14 Big Ten schools. Previously Penn State and Nebraska did not participate in the 2017 inaugural season, but those two schools have committed to compete the next two seasons. Returning to the league will be the likes of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Purdue, Rutgers and Wisconsin.

Riot will now contribute $35,000 in scholarship money to each school's League of Legends club, which will be evenly divided among the rosters and staff. Six players will receive $5000 each, with two student coach or analysts eligible of being granted $2500 each. The total scholarship money granted by Riot across the 14 schools is $490,000.

The season is set to start towards the end of January, with the top eight teams feeding into a playoff bracket that will play out from March 30 to April 2. The Big Ten Network will be in charge of production for the matches and is currently assessing the best livestreaming platform to broadcast on. The 2017 inaugural season was broadcasted on Twitch, but neither Riot nor the Big Ten Network commented on the state of that deal.

The new deal comes off the back of the 2017 season and a 2016 test event held by the Big Ten Network, which is a collaboration between the Big Ten Conference and Fox.

"Doing the initial Big Ten Network deal was a stepping stone to building that understanding," Riot Games associate esports manager Michael Sherman told ESPN. "We want to work with traditional infrastructure, we want to build League of Legends as an institution in college. This new two-year deal is the next step in doing that. Not only do we now have all 14 schools, but we also have the two-year commitment. Even going into this year, students were asking if it was going to happen or not, and our goal is to get past that. We want to be at a point where the season starts in January."

The renewal of the Big Ten Network league is the second Riot Games collegiate initiative announced in 2018. Riot partnered with the Peach Belt Conference, a NCAA Division II conference, to host their first Peach Belt League of Legends league. However, as a result of NCAA amateurism rules, Riot, considered an outside third-party, is unable to provide athletic-type scholarships to the Peach Belt schools and players. Other conferences, like the Pac-12, have considered running an esports league, but have not committed.

The addition of Penn State and Nebraska totals over 300 universities participating in the League of Legends collegiate circuit. More than 30 of those include scholarship programs, with several -- like Boise State, Utah, Georgia State, UC Irvine and Western Kentucky -- considering esports a varsity sport. Other schools outside of those are hosted by their League of Legends or esports clubs.