EA and Learfield IMG College’s Level Next Crown Madden 21 Collegiate National Champions
For Jacob “JWall” Wallack from Northeastern University, it all came down to one pressure-packed moment. All he needed was to kick the ball through the uprights and he’d walk away with $25K USD and a collegiate national championship. The snap was good, the kick was clean, and celebrations erupted as the ball flew through the uprights. Wallack was the Level Next College Madden National Champion and pocketed $25K richer thanks to his prowess and skill playing Electronic Arts video game title Madden Football.
More than 1,000 students and 400 colleges competed in the event , but if it wasn’t for the connection between a trifecta of companies, each with a different but complementary skillset, it would not have taken place.
“Winning the national championship was amazing. I have competed in Madden for about three years and this is by far my largest prize that I have won,” Wallack told The Esports Observer. “I am most proud of my ability to battle back after going down 0-1 in the finals.”
However, while winning the championship was important to Wallack, helping to grow esports alongside Electronic Arts and Learfield IMG College was important to him as well.
“I think it’s super important. I am all about competitive esports growing, particularly Madden and I think that a lot of that could be done on the collegiate level,” he said. “I know multiple people who got their first competitive experience in this tournament and are looking to branch out in competitive Madden more in the future. I know that the Level Next staff were surprised with how many people signed up for the tournament, so I think that is a good sign of the potential growth here.”
Another “good sign” of the potential growth was that the finals of this event was picked up by NBC and shown on NBCSN as part of a two-hour broadcast that aired on Jan. 22.
Additionally, Wallack’s sentiment can be seen as the biggest reason that Electronic Arts and Learfield IMG College have come together in creating the Level Next Fall Championship Series–and they’re not done. In fact, the two companies have aspirations to be the driver in the collegiate esports scene.
“Electronic Arts was obviously a natural partner. This partnership really helped us make this kind of foray into esports a little more seamless,” said Rick Barakat, EVP & managing director of the media & partnerships group at Learfield IMG College. “Our desire or objective here is to bridge traditional sports and esports and we think we can get to both audiences by way of what Learfield IMG College and Electronic Arts bring to the table. Focusing on the most successful sports sims out there was just a great place to start.”
Learfield IMG College is no stranger to sports and sporting events. In fact, starting in April of 2019, the company became the “comprehensive sponsorship rightsholder” for the Big 12 Conference. The company manages “all aspects of the relationship, including worldwide sponsorship rights to all 16 Big 12 championship events.”
Electronic Arts, is also no stranger to esports as it has the two most popular sporting simulators in the space with its Madden and FIFA titles. Adding Apex: Legends, EA’s futuristic first-person shooter to the mix, one can see that EA has the acumen and experience to lead esport competitions–especially in the collegiate landscape.
“There is an entry point that requires providing a little bit of education with those that aren’t yet familiar with the space. Together with Learfield we are able to show what we’ve learned together,” Paul Johnson, VP commercialization, competitive gaming entertainment at EA, told TEO. “There’s a lot of education that happens in the esports space and our Madden and FIFA games make that entry a little easier.”
And with collegiate esports on the rise now with roughly 300 programs, more than 100 of those offering scholarships, the future is particularly bright.
“We’re extremely pleased with what we’ve been able to do in the Fall Champion series and the numbers that we’re achieving, what we’re doing with content and production,” Barakat said. “It’s a fluid evolution we’re in here. So as we gain more and we talk about other titles from EA, or we have conversations with additional publishers, it can look different in every season. But ideally we will have a fall and spring season.”
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