College roundup: College League of Legends playoffs ramp up this weekend

Mark Deppe discusses the growth of varsity esports (4:36)

UC Irvine's program director talks about how the Anteaters got their start as a varsity program and how school support benefits both players and the university. (4:36)

College League of Legends playoffs begin in earnest this weekend, with a few marquee matchups on tap in its varsity team-laden North region.

Two scholarship programs will face off in the opening round, with returning champion Maryville University taking on Miami (Ohio) in a surprisingly stern first-round test.

Of the eight playoff teams in the North, considered the toughest region in College League of Legends, five offer scholarships for esports. Two other varsity teams, Bellevue University and Lourdes University, will also square off in the opening round in the region.

Noticeably absent from the regional playoffs is Robert Morris University, the first-ever varsity esports program. RMU finished with a 4-2 record in the Swiss-style format and missed the playoffs after a loss to unbeaten University of Manitoba in the final week of competition.

The West region features another battle between California squads for in-state and regional superiority. UC Irvine, another varsity program, will go up against UC Santa Barbara in the opening round. University of Utah, another varsity esports sponsor, made it into the playoffs as the sixth and final seed after a thrilling three-game series against University of Colorado, and will try to topple UC San Diego and prevent another Cali-on-Cali matchup in the second round of the West playoffs.

It's a similar story in the South, where a slew of Texas teams will fight for a spot in the finals. Texas A&M is the No. 1 seed in the group and faces Georgia State, the eighth seed, in the opening round. Two other Texas teams, No. 2 University of Texas-Dallas and No. 3 University of Texas at Austin, will try to make their way to the finals from the other side of the bracket.

The East, meanwhile, might as well be the Canadian region. Western University's team leads the pack, but longtime contender University of Toronto as well as University of Ottawa, University of Waterloo and Ryerson University are in the mix, along with New York University and Carnegie Mellon.

The conference-specific leagues for the Peach Belt Conference and Big Ten Conference will take place in LAN settings starting March 17 and April 16, respectively.

Midwest esports announces new LAN tournament

Following the success of the Wichita Esports Convention, Midwest Esports has another LAN tournament lined up that will allow college and semipro squads to square off.

The Nebraska eSports Expo will take place April 27-29 at Bellevue University in Bellevue, Nebraska. Bellevue University houses a varsity esports program and is expected to participate in the second rendition of the Midwest League of Legends Tournament, tournament organizer Ramsey Jamoul said. The tournament will feature a $7,500 prize pool.

Several colleges competed at the sister tournament to the Nebraska event, the Wichita Esports Convention, which took place in early February in Wichita, Kansas. That tournament had a $20,000 prize pool for League of Legends, with college powerhouses like Columbia College, Robert Morris University and Maryville University taking part.

Grand View University in Iowa and Bellevue also took part in that tournament, as did University of Colorado's club team.

Three's company

Three college institutions announced the addition of varsity esports programs this week.

Coker College in Hartsville, South Carolina; King University in Bristol, Tennessee; and Northwest Christian University in Eugene, Oregon, have officially joined the National Association of Collegiate Esports.

"We've always tried to be on the cutting edge in college athletics, with sports like women's wrestling, cycling, and acrobatics & tumbling," King University athletics director David Hicks said in a statement. "Our goal has always been to reach underserved populations and meet unmet demand, and esports is an obvious choice for our next varsity sport."

All three schools plan to begin varsity competition in the 2018-19 academic year, and all three will start with Overwatch and League of Legends teams, with Coker also fielding a Hearthstone squad, according to statements from the schools.

"For this first season, we will recruit six-to-12 esports scholarship athletes who will compete in a regular season and then tournament from a state-of-the-art arena on campus," said Sarah Freeman, NCU's interim esports coach and associate athletics director. "Over time, we will add games such as Hearthstone, Rocket League, Smash Bros, and others to the competitive mix."

More than 60 colleges nationwide provide scholarships for esports. The full list is available here.

It's Spring Break, but for esports

The Midwest isn't the only place getting some college LAN love.

Oregon Institute of Technology has announced Spring Break GG, a three-day tournament from March 29 at 10 a.m. to March 31 at 10 p.m. that will feature high school and college teams from throughout the state. Prize pools have yet to be announced.