Collegiate esports are getting bigger in the U.S. Even the traditionally conservative National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has turned its attention to competitive gaming, looking for ways to get involved. So far, many conferences have hosted esports tournaments, but for the first time a Division I conference will host an esports event in conjunction with a sports event.
Ticket holders to the basketball tournaments will have free admission to the esports events.
The Mountain West Conference announced it will sponsor an esports tournament called MW eSports Showdown. It will have two schools with varsity esports programs, Boise State and University of Nevada-Las Vegas, compete in three popular esports disciplines: League of Legends, Overwatch, and Rocket League.
The tournament will take place between March 8 and 10 in Las Vegas, the same dates when Mountain West’s men and women basketball final tournaments will be held. The first two days will consist of exhibition games and will be held in the Strip View Pavilion, next to the Cox Pavilion, home to the basketball tourney. The third day will have the teams competing for the trophy and will be hosted in Cox Pavilion itself, just before the main event, the men’s basketball final, tips off. Ticket holders to the basketball tournaments will have free admission to the esports events.
This is a big deal for collegiate esports. College basketball is highly popular in the U.S. and the NCAA tournament (commonly known as March Madness) attracts larger and more passionate audiences than NBA games, bringing more ad revenues than the professional league’s playoffs. Mountain West is a strong conference, expected to send two teams (which will be decided during the tournament in Las Vegas) to the March Madness, so sanctioning and promoting esports during that period shows the growth of the space.
“As a conference, we have never been reluctant to try new and different things,” said Craig Thompson, Mountain West commissioner. “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 MW eSports Showdown will be broadcast live via the Mountain West esports page on Twitch.