March Madness meets esports with Mountain West tourney

The MW eSports Showdown is the first of its kind to take place across multiple esport titles. Provided by Riot Games

March Madness is coming to esports.

The Mountain West Conference announced Monday that it will sponsor a conference esports tournament along with its conference basketball tournaments in March at UNLV in Las Vegas.

The event, known as the MW eSports Showdown, is the first of its kind to take place across multiple titles in conjunction with a traditional college sports tournament. Boise State and UNLV will take part in the event and compete in Overwatch, League of Legends and Rocket League from March 8-10. The Mountain West's women's basketball tournament is taking place March 5-9, and the men's tournament is from March 7-10, all in Las Vegas.

"As a conference, we have never been reluctant to try new and different things, and I appreciate the encouragement and support of our University Presidents in bringing this exciting new initiative forward," Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson said in a statement. "Globally, esports is enjoying a boom in popularity - particularly among young people who are in the same age bracket as the students on our campuses. We are also seeing universities add eSports programming, technology and business to their curriculum offerings."

The esports tournament will feature show matches at the Strip View Pavilion from March 8-9, and the main event between BSU and UNLV on March 10 at Cox Pavilion, the home arena of the UNLV women's basketball team. The competition will be broadcast on Twitch throughout, and the show matches March 8-9 are free for ticketholders for the men's and women's basketball championships. Ticket pricing for the main event has not yet been announced.

Boise State is a varsity esports program under the National Association of Collegiate Esports, and its program director, Chris Haskell, could see events like these leading to a Mountain West tournament with more than just one varsity competitor.

"I think that it will add validity at the conference level needed to give the schools that are currently fighting for recognition on their campus ... it's the thing that's been missing," Haskell said. "There's never been a real push from anyone outside the student body to make this official, but with other member schools now having varsity programs and the conference acknowledging it, it gives some added leverage.

"It's not just the student idea anymore."

Other conferences have held similar events, but not in concert with a traditional sports tournament or across multiple esports. The Big Ten holds an annual esports tournament broadcast on the Big Ten Network for its College League of Legends competitors, and the Peach Belt Conference plans to have an LAN tournament for its League of Legends conference championship as well.