A new collegiate esports conference comprised of all of the Ivy League schools has been formed due to the frustration with the schools' inability to properly acknowledge esports and address the issues relative to the NCAA and amateur athletic standards. The league intends to utilize a funding model that will involve alumni providing strategic and financial support, and claims to have a few sponsorship deals on the table.
A number of pro sports team owners who are alumni of Ivy League schools have offered to fund teams, per Co-Commissioner Kevin Mitchell.
"The students want to push the schools to come to the table and address how to create a model that avoids the restrictions that the NCAA has related to amateur status," says Mitchell.
I spoke with Mitchell as well as his Co-Commissioner William Collis and Ivy Esports Student Commissioner Willy Lee to learn more about their esports startup.
Why do you believe there was a need for a collegiate esports conference among Ivy League schools and what are the specific goals for same?
Lee: I believe that the need for a collegiate esports conference goes beyond just the clubs in the Ivy League. Rather, there is a need for this type of structure for most mid and small-sized colleges/universities. The global potential of esports provides a low barrier to entry because of its popularity and convenience; but this also inherently inhibits club's longevity since organizations depend on team competitiveness for survival. The establishment of the Ivy Esports Conference has been a means for our clubs to build tradition within our local conference, as well as create meaningful networks with other interested conferences and alumni. This ensures that teams can create the ecosystem of support necessary for long term success.
Who are the initial members of this new conference and what positions do they maintain
Lee: The founding members of this new conference are the leaders of all eight Ivy League esports clubs and their constituent membership. Together we set the ground rules for fairness, success and the growth of esports at our nation's top universities. Additionally, we have a Commissionership structure to develop strategic partnerships for our League. There are two Co-Commissioners who bring deep industry expertise: William Collis of Genji Esports and Kevin Mitchell of Emerson College. I am also part of the Commissionership, representing the clubs as Student Commissioner.
What is your model for growth and what do you have lined up with regard to revenue creation?
Collis: Our initial plan for growth is three-fold. Firstly, we are focused on hosting a number of major competitive events for the Ivy League, starting with our inaugural October tournament: Ivy October. This event will mark the first time ever all eight Ivy League schools have competed in an esports competition. We plan similar competitive events and a full League structure starting immediately afterwards.
Secondly, we are focused on growth outside the Ivy League. We have a number of exciting partnership discussions with other esports institutions on campuses worldwide, and will have more news to announce here soon.
Finally, we are focused on securing the right industry support to make sure student needs are met. We have some big news coming here, but nothing we are prepared to speak about today. And even though our League was just announced, we've already publicly worked with both the College Esports Expo at Emerson and my company, Genji Esports, for internship and skills development opportunities.
What are your biggest challenges with regard to complying with NCAA rules and regulations and do you have any ideas as to how you will either work with the Association or work around those roadblocks?
Lee: We don't foresee any major challenges with the NCAA at the moment. We have deep respect for the NCAA, and love Kurt Melcher from Intersport and the research he is doing on their behalf into esports. But we also think traditional sporting institutions aren't strongly applicable to esports. Part of why we founded the Ivy Esports Conference is to help define and structure the space, since we think it is so important for students to have a voice in its creation.
Collis: Willy is exactly right here. Put another way, there really aren't many regulations to comply with in esports today. It's effectively the Wild West. We feel the IEC can act as a leader in setting a model structure that fairly rewards students and encourages partnerships across industry and college campuses for collaborative success.
Mitchell: We feel it is critically important for esports to learn from and improve on previous collegiate conference models. One of our key initiatives involves researching new approaches to player advocacy. We realize that it will take time to determine the best course of action to build a more sustainable model for esports. And we're committed and prepared to put in this work. We're already collaborating with many parties here (more to announce soon), and welcome others into the discussion if they are interested.