The Mountain West Conference has announced it will host the first-ever MW eSports Showdown during the league's men's and women's basketball championships next month.

Teams of up to 15 participants from Boise State University and the University of Nevada Las Vegas will compete in exhibition matches on March 8 and 9 at UNLV's Thomas & Mack Center, home to this year's conference basketball tournament, with the main event staged the following day inside Cox Pavilion, a 78,300-square-foot multipurpose indoor arena connected to the Thomas & Mack Center. The schools were selected to compete based on their established eSports programs and the support of their university presidents — BSU's Bob Kustra and UNLV's Len Jessup.

Boise State was the first Mountain West member to grant varsity status to its eSports program, with 60 so-called "e-athletes" competing at the varsity level and another 240 students participating at the club level. The university is in the process of building the largest gaming facility in collegiate eSports. It will include a 100-seat training center, a broadcast facility and a spectator arena for live weekly matches. UNLV, a founding member of the Nevada Esports Alliance, has one of the nation's only academic programs for students combining the art, science and business of eSports.

"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 on the conference website. "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."

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The teams will compete in three popular eSports games — League of Legends, Rocket League and Overwatch. Fans holding tickets to the basketball tournament will be admitted free to the exhibitions, with pricing and ticket availability for the main event yet to be announced. All events will be broadcast on the conference's Twitch page

Said Thompson, "We are excited to connect the tradition of our successful MW Men's and Women's Basketball Championships with something innovative and different like the MW eSports Showdown."

Paul Steinbach is Senior Editor of Athletic Business.