The University of Kentucky and Gen.G, a global esports organization, have announced an esports tournament from March 12-14 around the games League of Legends, Valorant and Rocket League. The event, called the University of Kentucky Esports Invitational, is part of an ongoing partnership between Kentucky and Gen.G.
And though it is an official school-sanctioned event, winners will receive a $1,000 prize, paid out to each player on the winning teams. The NCAA voted not to govern collegiate esports in 2019, and though there are organizers including the American Collegiate Esports League (ACEL) and the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), Kentucky isn’t a member of either.
The pay is a start but doesn’t compare to professional League of Legends tournaments, the largest of which granted the winning team $562,500 last year.
Despite the recent arrival of esports on campus, traditional rivalries endure. The Kentucky Invitational will also feature SEC foes Auburn, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss, Missouri and Tennessee. All of the schools participating have existing teams playing the games, which are popular esports titles.
“We’re excited to host our first major invitational with UK with some of the top esports universities participating,” said Gen.G CEO Chris Park in a statement. “It’s amazing to see the continued buzz around esports in the college ecosystem. We look forward to bringing a world-class experience to students around the country.”
More than 125 colleges and universities now have school-sponsored esports programs, according to ESPN, up from a single one, Robert Morris University, in 2014.
League of Legends, Valorant and Rocket League were all in Twitch’s most watched esports games in February 2021, according to Newzoo. And with the number of players continuing to rise, statista says the audience for esports has surged as well, gaining 100 million more people from 2018 (395 million to 495 million).
Gen.G’s director of partnership activations, Julien Benichou, predicts that collegiate esports will continue to grow. “We have always considered collegiate esports an incredible opportunity for esports athletes to take part in something they are passionate about through their college or university. With a highly accelerated timeline, we expect collegiate esports to join college athletics programs and be the norm,” he said in a statement.
Kentucky and Gen.G have been partnered together since 2019, but their first event was in 2020 with their NBA 2K “Hoops at Home” Tournament. Since then, the two organizations have put together virtual events, activations and initiatives. Positive student response led to this year’s UK Esports Invitational. Kentucky and Gen.G declined to comment on the terms of the deal.
“Our students continue to be passionate about esports, so we are thrilled to be able to invite other schools to participate, in hopes of providing a unique way to level-up their competitive skills,” said UK’s Associate CIO Heath Price.