On November 26th, Ohio State hosts Michigan in the much-anticipated regular-season college football game. The Buckeyes and Wolverines are respectively 10-0 and second and third overall in the College Football Playoffs.
Six days before this game, several players from each team compete at a different location. On Sunday, they will compete in an online Fortnite tournament featuring eight teams from Ohio State and eight teams from Michigan.
The winning team will share $25,000, while the winning school’s esports program will receive an additional $25,000 as well as a trophy that the tournament organizer says is worth $5,000. The event is expected to last around two and a half hours, so the winner will be determined on Sunday.
Each team will have a current athlete (mostly soccer player), a former athlete (mostly soccer player), a current student from the school’s esports teams, and a professional esports player/social media influencer. All participants will be paid for participation, and current players will earn additional money through NIL (Name, Image and Likeness) deals with Epic Games, Inc., the publisher of Fortnite.
The tournament will be broadcast on the MFAM Gauntlet Twitch channel by Nick “Nickmercs” Kolcheff. Nickmercs has 6.6 million followers on Twitch and is one of the world’s most popular eSports competitors. The other people involved in the event will also be streaming the game on their social media channels, either Instagram or Twitter.
Current players expected to compete in the tournament include Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud, Ohio State running back Miyan Williams, Ohio State defensive end JT Tuimoloau, Michigan receiver Roman Wilson and Michigan All-American kicker Jake Moody . Former players include former Ohio State quarterbacks Braxton Miller, Troy Smith and Cardale Jones, and former Michigan quarterbacks Devin Gardner and Shea Patterson.
Epic Games is funding the event, which is organized by eFuse, an esports technology and infrastructure startup based in Columbus, Ohio, which has raised $8.3 million in venture capital since its inception in August 2018. NIL Management, a Columbus-based NIL consulting management company, is also involved, as is Valiant Management Group, a sports marketing agency representing Michigan athletes.
Epic uses eFuse’s technology to power its collegiate Fortnite leagues, which feature approximately 600 colleges. Earlier this year, Matthew Benson, eFuse co-founder and CEO, reached out to Epic to address the Ohio State-Michigan event and tie it to the week of the football game known as “The Big Game,” dating back to 1897 .
“We said, ‘Hey, we can take the same (technology) and do a combination of collegiate sports and big influencers and bring the two together into this event,'” Benson said.
He added: “When (football players) come home at night, what do they do? They play video games, they play Fortnite. What we wanted to do was combine the fame they’ve built within the ranks of traditional sports with the gaming ecosystem they’re so passionate about outside of that and basically bring the two together in this iconic event, that presents the best rivalry in all sports.”
Ohio State and Michigan each have hundreds of students who compete against other colleges in esports events or among themselves as part of on-campus clubs. But this is the first time the Buckeyes and Wolverines have met in a head-to-head format.
“There really has never been an event like this that’s specifically focused on the rivalry that I’m aware of in esports, especially at the collegiate level,” said John Price, Ohio State esports manager who oversees the school’s campus , 3,500-square-foot esports arena and the school’s esports teams. “I think that’s one of the best parts of it. It’s a first step into a new part of college esports.”
Benson said he hopes the Ohio State-Michigan Esports tournament will become an annual tradition at the end of November during school football game week. He also intends to expand the format to other collegiate sports rivalries such as North Carolina and Duke.
“We see this as a blueprint for how to fuse traditional esports with esports and bring them together in this mutually financially prosperous crescendo moment,” Benson said. “But it’s also about bringing passions together and showing what eSports can do for rivalries and universities. We’re really trying to create a blueprint that we can replicate with other rivalries and other schools.”