‘League of Legends’ high school esports no longer exclusive to PlayVS

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Riot Games announced in a community update on Wednesday that any high school esports league can now run season-long school vs. school competitions for “League of Legends,” ending an exclusive partnership between the publisher and PlayVS, a for-profit startup that hosts a platform for amateur esports competitions.

Riot didn’t mention PlayVS by name in its statement, but the publisher’s decision comes after educators from other school esports leagues decried the exclusive partnership, arguing that restrictive licensing agreements between publishers and competition platforms provide opportunities for students.

For the past two years, PlayVS (pronounced “play against”) has been the exclusive platform for high school League of Legends competitions. Anyone can play “League of Legends” at home for free, but to participate in officially sanctioned high school leagues, students and schools had to pay PlayVS, which charges $64 per player per season. Across the country, other for-profit and nonprofit esports leagues hold school-vs-school competitions in games like “Rocket League” and “Super Smash Bros.” – many at no cost to schools or students. But the exclusive agreement between Riot and PlayVS prohibited these leagues from holding inter-school matches in “League of Legends”, one of the most popular competitive games in the world.

Until now, schools that chose not to use PlayVS could only run two-week tournaments for “League of Legends,” per Riot’s rules. These competitions also could not use the words “university”, “season”, or “championship” to describe their events.

Teachers say PlayVS is exercising partnerships to monopolize school esports

Riot’s Wednesday update to community guidelines for high school competitions in “League of Legends” lifted restrictions on the length, size, and structure of competitions that schools can hold. Any organizer can host a competition in the “League of Legends” as long as the schools are from the same state or province and the competition “does not purport to crown a national champion,” the company wrote in a statement to the “League of Legends.” of Legends”. ” sports website.

“We’ve determined that the best way to set up high school esports for success is to further open, rather than narrow, the avenues of competition,” the statement read. “Going forward, our priority with high school esports is to create more opportunities for schools and players to decide how, when and where they want to compete.”

A Riot spokesperson did not immediately respond to request for comment.

PlayVS did not immediately respond to request for comment regarding Riot’s decision to drop the exclusivity deal.

Since 2018, PlayVS has been trying to position itself as the only high school interscholastic esports provider. Earlier this year, PlayVS inaccurately stated on its website that it was the “only place to play” esports at the college level in the United States. The PlayVS website has since been updated to remove this claim. In January, PlayVS emailed cease and desist letters to nonprofit esports organizations in at least five states, ordering associations to stop hosting matches for certain game titles, despite not having the authority to do so.

Several teachers associated with these nonprofits have said they believe PlayVS is trying to force school programs to use its platform.

PlayVS bills itself as a “turnkey” solution for esports, handling scheduling, matchmaking, and record keeping for school administrators who want to deliver esports programs to students but don’t know where to start. The company currently holds commercial licenses for nine games, including titles like “Overwatch” and “NBA 2K.” Unlike traditional sports, video game publishers own the rights to every esports title and decide how and where their games are used.

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In 2018, PlayVS launched a contract with the streaming network for the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) to be the network’s platform for esports competitions. Now PlayVS has contracts with 21 NFHS-related state sports associations, as well as a number of groups outside the federation, according to the company’s website.

In a call with The Post in April, Karissa Niehoff, chief executive of the NFHS, clarified the status of its partnership with PlayVS, saying the company is not the exclusive esports platform with its member schools. and that high school programs can work with any platform they choose. Niehoff said the contract between PlayVS and the NFHS network “is simply that the network will defend PlayVS.”

“We have been made aware of numerous communications that misidentify the partnership,” Niehoff said. “Nobody is the esports exclusive for high schools. Nobody.”

As we approach next school year, Riot said in its statement that the company plans to closely monitor the impact of its updated guidelines on “League of Legends” competitions in schools nationwide.

“This is just the beginning,” the statement said. “Our long-term goal is to directly support (with the help of a third party) official state and provincial high school championships across North America.”

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