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Garena launches varsity esports in Philippines

Garena, the local developer for League of Legends in the Philippines, announced its LoL Varsity League series Sunday. The league, which will begin with seven founding member institutions, plans to implement scholarships in the coming year. Provided by Garena Philippines

MANILA, Philippines -- Who said esports' rapid growth was limited to the big leagues?

Collegiate esports, like its professional counterpart, has been seeing increased mainstream acceptance as of late. Nearly 50 institutions in the U.S. and Canada sponsor varsity esports, with hundreds more clubs and about a dozen leagues to parse through.

Halfway across the world in the Philippines, local League of Legends publisher Garena believes that collegiate esports has the potential to become as much of a big deal as its pro scene is.

Following its long-running LoL Collegiate League, Garena Philippines will be debuting the LoL Varsity League early next month -- an initiative whose goal is to "grow collegiate esports not only as a league but as a tool for education." The program will begin with seven partner schools.

With the LoL Varsity League, Garena Philippines aims to establish a professional collegiate esports environment in conjunction with its partner universities. This includes the development of esports-related education and on-campus infrastructure, and scholarships by 2018. The LVL will debut at 1 a.m. ET on Nov. 12 on Garena's YouTube channel.

ESPN sat down with Garena esports executive Ariane "Metanoia" Lim to find out more about the LVL and its various intricacies.

Justin Banusing: What would you describe the LoL Varsity League as exactly?

Metanoia: The LoL Varsity League, or LVL, is an effort to have a good standard on how collegiate esports could be organized in a varsity level.

The initiative comes from seeing the potential and challenges the LoL Collegiate League has -- our current competitive collegiate circuit. There's a desire to be recognized, there's a desire to grow, but there's a challenge to just come together as a campus.

The LVL wants the organization, recognition and continuity that the LCL struggles at.

With all this talk about improving upon the your previous program, what role will the LCL play moving forward? Will LCL schools still be given the chance to compete in the LoL International Collegiate Cup (LICC)?

Metanoia: The LCL is a great space to discover new talent and to see how much collegiate esports have grown in a specific region in the country. In a competitive level, you can't compare a league of 48 to a league of 7.

We will have a separate qualifier for LICC wherein the top team of each of the six LCL conferences and the top two teams of the LVL will get to fight for representation.

Given the limited amount of partner schools for the first iteration of the LVL, could you elaborate how Garena chose who to partner with? How does a school become eligible for the LVL?

Metanoia: Last term, we set a requirement for teams that they needed student-org backers in order to be eligible for the LCL. This opened for us to understand how campuses operate and how teams can come together to get them to cooperate.

Technical University of the Philippines-Manila, AMA University-Quezon City, University of the Philippines-Diliman, Malayan Colleges Laguna, Far Eastern University-Institute of Technology, University of Sto. Tomas, iAcademy. These seven campuses got into LVL through the hard work and unity of the students in convincing their administration that collegiate esports can be relevant in the campus.

We based initial talks on how active their organization got and how successful their talks were with the administration when they were just competing in LCL. A lot of campuses had some incredible progress in erasing the stigma between competitive video games and education.

There's no definitive steps, at this point, to join LVL but what is standard to the success of the seven we have now is:

1. Join LCL and have a competitive, dedicated team.

2. Know how your school feels about esports. Learn how to present the concept as a tool for learning. What a lot of teams get wrong is that they can't frame how exhibiting how you can do collegiate esports is better than just prohibiting it outright.

3. Get organized. Not everyone can be the star player. Look for coaches, managers, etc. There's a lot of work to do to play the Rift on campus.

How does the dynamic between Garena and its partner schools work right now? Have school administrations been supportive?

Metanoia: When we opened LVL to the administration, we didn't just introduce the concept of competitive League esports.

We introduced education through League esports. Our dynamic would entail us teaching them the ropes in other industries behind esports -- coaching, events, production, etc.

We have several accreditation levels for LVL. We made that system to be able to tailor fit the program into the campus culture. Some campuses start with the bare minimum, competition-ready level. Some campuses are working towards the other facets of esports.

We want to enable students to learn more about esports (and its associated industries) through esports. We can't do that without the support and guidance of the administration.

Apart from training and an elite competitive environment, what else is Garena providing? Are the schools expected to give anything back?

Metanoia: It's a partnership, not a sponsorship.

Some of the campuses restructured their organization to adopt LVL, some of the campuses excused their students from class to settle requirements for LVL, some even provided a space within the campus for the teams to play in a safe environment.

What we provide most of all is an opportunity. They get to compete in their own league. Their other students, who may not have made Team A, can learn other things about esports.

Let's talk about your first split. With seven teams playing in a round-robin format, what's at stake?

Metanoia: Well, for collegiate level, pride is always on the line most of all.

But for this year, there's also a 30,000 Philippine peso ($582) championship prize and a 20,000 Philippine peso ($388) runner-up prize, aside from the usual Riot Points, and of course, the JBL T450BT Headphones that our sponsors at Lenovo and Intel provided us for this split.

One of the biggest things that Garena announced with the LVL was that scholarships would soon play a role in it. When will scholarships be offered, and how would students acquire them?

Metanoia: We're planning it for next year. We aren't too sure yet how to apply the scholarships since there's a lot of things to consider that we need to tailor fit for the campus. They have different term breaks, different tuition expenses, different GPA/QPI standards; there's a lot to discuss to make it equitable.

What is the measuring stick for success for this year? Would expansion next year depend on its success? If so, what are your plans for the future?

Metanoia: What we want for this year is to be able to gauge how much the students can and have grown whether as a player, or as a member of the staff. We're going to have several requirements and reports in place to track just that so that we can duplicate the success of a campus.

Should we be successful, we're going to acquire more campuses so we may see eight or 12 next year.

Do you think the local scene is ready for such a comprehensive program?

Metanoia: I think seeing how we got these great seven campus partners for LVL, and we have many more who are working towards it for 2018, it's already a good indication that campuses are opening up to esports.

What we want to do in LVL, most of all, is to show other campuses how they can be ready for it.