March Madness For eSports Is A Real Thing, And The Stakes Are Huge

March Madness, the time of year when marginal fans of college basketball come together as one, filling out brackets to determine a winner of a massive tournament they don’t know much about. There’s just something undeniable about filling out a bracket that everyone loves, and now eSports are (wisely) getting in on the action.

Blizzard, the massive company behind World of Warcraft and Starcraft, is hosting their own 64-team college tournament for Heroes of the Storm with a massive prize pool for the winners, and a sweet $10K prize to whoever has the most accurate bracket.

It’s a whole new world now. While NCAA basketball teams strive to cut down nets and become immortalized through a 64-team tournament, eSports are creeping into pop culture with their own high-stakes bracketed action. The winning team of Heroes of the Dorm will get their college tuition paid for (up to $500K), so the pressure is on, and that should make for fun viewing. If you’re someone who eschews “real” sports for competitive gaming, you can watch it all for free on Facebook starting March 18th. The tournament will last for weeks, culminating in the Grand Finals April 8th in Las Vegas.

To put the popularity of this stuff into perspective, Blizzard ditched ESPN2, the broadcaster of the last two tournaments, for Facebook so the viewers could have more options to stream the action. Damn millennials!

As someone with a decent grasp on Heroes of the Storm, I basically filled out my Heroes of the Dorm bracket like I would my March Madness bracket — with complete and utter abandon (just pick the favorites). We all know roughly 50 percent of the bracket-fillers have no clue who they’re picking since the rooting interests vary. Maybe they went to one of the schools in the tournament, or maybe they just like the jersey colors. The barrier of entry is basically the same with Heroes of the Dorm, there are just orcs and elves battling with swords and magic instead of Duke and Kansas dunking and fouling at opportune times. “Krzyzewski” sounds like a dark magic spell, doesn’t it?

Who would’ve thought that in just a few short years eSports could evolve from a niche viewing experience to a cross-country tournament filling arenas with fans just like their basketball counterparts? Where will we be in five years? Colleges are already paying tuitions so eSport stars can represent their schools. Maybe this is it — we’re living in the future now. One that Fred Savage predicted almost 30 years ago.