The first edition of The Game will play out online Sunday night. While Ohio State and Michigan meet on the football field Nov. 26, current players and alumni will duke it out this weekend in a Fortnite tournament.
In a tournament hosted by Michigan superfan and famous Twitch streamer Nick ‘Nickmercs’ Kolcheff, $55,000 will be on the line at 8 p.m. ET Sunday.
The list of current Ohio State and Michigan athletes includes C.J. Stroud, Miyan Williams, JT Tuimoloau, Tyleik Williams, Emeka Egbuka, Ronnie Hickman, Taron Vincent, Javonte Jean-Baptist, Jake Moody, Brad Robbins, Roman Wilson and Will Johnson.
The tournament will be powered by eFuse, which provides the infrastructure for countless esports tournaments. Sources told On3 more than six figures were spent in signing talent to the Ohio State and Michigan tournament rosters. Valiant Management and NIL Management facilitated the deals, while Epic Games has provided the financial support.
“We actually run the collegiate Fortnite league on behalf of Epic Games,” eFuse CEO Matthew Benson told On3. “One of the things we know they wanted to do was the NIL opportunity in trying to bring the rivalries of traditional sports into their game. A little over three months ago, we brought them this idea of Ohio State versus Michigan.
“Why not start off with the greatest rivalry in all of college sports? Brought them this idea we would bring alumni, current NIL talent, students and gamers together for this epic rivalry matchup. They bought in and got behind it.”
On top of the NIL appearance fee, teams will be battling for $25,000 in cash. The winning school will take home a $5,000 trophy along with $25,000 for their esports program. Plans are in place to make this an annual tradition.
To play up on the history of The Game, eFuse has built a custom map. Both universities were involved in the tournament, each giving permission to use their trademarks.
The buy-in from alumni is impressive, too. On the Ohio State side, Braxton Miller, Troy Smith, Cardale Jones, Ryan Shazier and Devin Smith are all involved. And some of the top Michigan quarterbacks in recent history — Denard Robinson, Devin Gardner and Shea Patterson — have also committed to representing the Wolverines.
“In total, it will take two and a half hours,” Benson said. “It starts off with four different groups. It will start out as a round robin, each team will play three matches. Based off of that, we’re going to take the top team from each group and put them in a single-elimination, top-four bracket. There will be two Ohio State teams, two Michigan teams. They’ll play, and the winner of those will play in the championship.”
Plans to scale Fortnite rivalries
While Sunday night will give fans from both Michigan and Ohio State the opportunity to see how some of their favorite players are at playing Fortnite, it is also being used as a test case.
Epic Games has already proven it wants to invest in the NIL space. This spring, the company enlisted dozens of high-profile college athletes to promote Fortnite. Now the company is taking its next step, paying athletes for their appearance and also trying to tap into schools’ fandom.
Benson believes this could just be the start. There are plenty of historic rivalries across college football and beyond that would command an audience. Plus, as of 2024, the esports market is forecast to be worth approximately $1.62 billion. That’s an audience brands would love to tap into.
“We want this to be a reoccurring theme, but we’re using this as a template and think about other rivalries in football and other sports,” Benson said. “Duke-UNC would be great. How can we replicate this model. It’s absolutely a test case to see if we can take the traditional sports fandom and bring it into the gaming sphere and have these rivalries live on in these different game titles.”