In March, the men’s and women’s basketball teams of the Mountain West Conference will descend on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, to fight for a conference championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

esports Mountain West UNLV

At this year’s Mountain West basketball tournament, UNLV and Boise State could face off both on the court and on the virtual battlefield. (Image: AP/Otto Kitsinger)

But fans might get the chance to see more than just fast breaks and slam dunks during the event, thanks to plans to host an exhibition esports competition during the tournament.

According to UNLV President Len Jessup, the exhibition was his idea. After speaking to other officials in the conference, he realized it could be even bigger than his initial plan.

“We proposed the idea because Boise State has an esports team and we have a club,” Jessup told the Las Vegas Sun. “But then many of the other schools and the Mountain West commissioner said they were interested.”

Specifics of Exhibition Yet to be Determined

Details are not yet available for the exhibition, which might involve individual matches played between basketball games, or could exist alongside the tournament as its own event.

Jessup said that he believes there will be plenty of interest in the exhibition, citing the fact that esports contests often fill stadiums with fans who want to watch live.

Jessup also talked about the future of collegiate esports, which he thinks could eventually develop into an NCAA-style format for universities to participate in.

“It’s definitely heading in that direction,” he 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.”

Gaming Industry Has Growing Interest in Esports

UNLV has a particularly strong relationship with the growing esports community. The school’s International Gaming Institute (IGI) created the first academic courses and labs that are based on esports. The university sees esports as a major growth avenue for the gaming industry in Las Vegas and beyond.

“Esports is the hottest topic in every board room on the strip, particularly with respect to Millennials,” said Robert Rippee, who serves as director of the IGI Hospitality Lab and Esports Lab. “What better place to begin the journey to understand its relevance and application to the casino and hospitality industry than right here at UNLV?”

There are signs that casinos in both Las Vegas and Macau are starting to dive headlong into the world of esports. Recently, the Downtown Grand in Vegas has begun to take bets on major esports competitions, including the League of Legends World Championships in November. The casino even hosted a watch party for the tournament finals in “the Commissary,” a lounge and arcade dedicated to esports.

Meanwhile, Macau has started to ramp up its efforts to host esports events as a way to diversify what the city can offer to visitors beyond gambling.

Earlier this month, SJM Holdings hosted the MDL Macau Dota2 International Elite Invitational at its Grand Lisboa Hotel, marking the first international esports competition held in the territory.