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February 21, 2019

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UNLV to host esports exhibition during Mountain West basketball tournament

Millennial Esports and UNLV

Millennial Esports CEO Alex Igelman speaks at an event marking the opening night of UNLV’s academic esports class and lab, inside an actual esports arena on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017.

Looking to further its reach into the developing esports industry, UNLV plans to host an exhibition competition among fellow Mountain West schools during the conference’s annual basketball tournaments.

UNLV President Len Jessup pitched the idea during a meeting with conference officials.

“We (UNLV) proposed the idea because Boise State has an esports team and we have a club. At minimum, we thought it might be fun to do a competition between us,” Jessup said. “But then many of the other schools and the Mountain West commissioner said they were interested.”

Further details about the exhibition competition were not available. The matches would be scheduled during the Mountain West Conference’s men’s and women’s basketball tournaments March 7-10 in Las Vegas.

“They would be played in the Thomas & Mack Center or the Cox Pavilion, with the games shown on the (scoreboard) screens,” Jessup said. “We’re not sure, but there could be one event or maybe a few rounds in between the basketball games.”

Las Vegas is becoming an esports hub. The Millennial Esports Arena is located downtown, and a venue being constructed in the Luxor.

In addition to its esports club, UNLV is the first major university to offer an academic course and lab centered on esports.

Jessup expects the explosion in the popularity of esports to continue.

“It shows you how quickly this new sport is growing and maturing,” he said. “It’s not just a lot of people playing online — you're having actual events in stadiums that fill.”

If the event takes off, Jessup says he could see the Mountain West Conference heading in the direction of the NBA and NHL, and starting an esports collegiate league.

“It’s definitely heading in that direction,” Jessup said. “Several of the Big Ten schools are doing that, and Cal and Utah in the Pac-12 are doing that. I think you’re going to see university-based teams and conference matchups and maybe an even bigger, national matchup in esports.”