A handful of national and local partners in the esports industry, including Philly’s Nerd Street Gamers and CSL Esports, announced this week that they are forming NACE Starleague. It’ll be the largest collegiate esports league in North America, per the partners.
On the team behind the league, Nerd Street and CSL are joined by the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) and Mainline, a software company in collegiate esports. In all, the league will serve more than 14,500 students across 600 colleges and universities.
“This partnership marks a truly historic milestone for collegiate esports,” Rob Johnson, CEO of CSL Esports, said in a statement. “Combining the efforts of four major players in collegiate esports is a transformative moment to create more access and opportunities for student-athletes and further elevate the sport in ways that were previously not possible.”
Johnson said the league intends to help advance the competitive experience for student athletes and help the universities themselves navigate the quickly growing industry.
Local schools and universities participating in the league include Arcadia University, Temple University, Drexel University, Lehigh University, Pennsylvania State University, St. Joseph’s University and the University of Pennsylvania. NACE Starleague plans to collaborate with participating schools to host localized invitationals and build esports practice facilities.
Starleague operations will begin in the fall of this year. They will host multiple tiers of skill levels, from student-run clubs to school-sanctioned varsity teams. Registration is expected to open in early August for varsity, and NACE will help oversee match rules in compliance with game publishers, student-athlete verification, recruitment best practices and varsity team development.
The league took about seven months of preparation, following Playfly Sports’ acquisition of CSL Esports last September. CSL’s Director of Marketing Hung Tran said the company set out to make collegiate esports more sustainable for schools, and it believes this partnership model has the greatest potential.
"I’m excited to be a part of a changing tide that unites businesses in our industry to cooperate instead of excluding one another."
“All the brands in this partnership are highly respected and great at what they do, so by coming together, we can create the greatest change,” Tran said in an email.
Nerd Street Gamers’ in-person Localhost facilities will provide teams with access to training facilities, broadcast production and competition space as well as discounted access to Nerd Street collegiate tournaments.
“I’m excited to be a part of a changing tide that unites businesses in our industry to cooperate instead of excluding one another,” John Fazio, CEO of Nerd Street, said. “We hope that this partnership will define success in a way that drives greater collaboration amongst our peers in the industry, and ultimately delivers value to our stakeholders: the gamers.”
Mainline’s tournament platform will provide team management, student authentication for colleges and universities, deep sponsorship integrations and up-to-date privacy and legal compliance. The league will also be working directly with schools on a curriculum and on facility development.
Tran told Technical.ly that the partnership is currently working with different publishers to finalize the league’s fall schedule.
“Unlike stick and ball sports, esports essentially plays with a ball that someone else owns,” he said. “We are stewards of their brand and want to make sure that we are a great marketing vehicle for their brands and creators of the games.”