David Kirk, M.S. ‘16, discovered how he could fuse his passions for gaming and campus recreation into a career at Illinois State. Now he is returning to campus to help Illinois State become a leader in the esports space.

Kirk was recently selected to serve as Illinois State’s esports program director. The program, under the leadership of Campus Recreation, will feature a Redbird Esports varsity team, club teams that exist under the Redbird Esports umbrella, and casual gaming spaces. 

Kirk rejoins Illinois State after serving at the University of Akron as the assistant director of esports for the past two years. During Kirk’s tenure there, Akron was a two-time Rocket League national champion and had competitive varsity squads in six other popular titles. He also co-founded National Collegiate Esports, an organization that helps esports professionals network, share best practices, and grow esports programs.

“We know that students are taking part in gaming in large numbers. I want students to be able to engage in these activities while building the social capital of our campus.” – David Kirk

Executive Director of Campus Recreation Dawn Pote said Kirk is a natural choice due to his strong resume and love for Illinois State University.  

David has experience building an impressive and successful program at another university and has established himself as a nationally-recognized expert in this developing field,” she said. More importantly, he has a passion for designing meaningful experiences that create student success and a commitment to Illinois State University. I am thrilled he is leading our efforts in this exciting area. 

Kirk originally attended Indiana University to become a dentist. Through his undergraduate studies, he was involved with campus recreation and started to think that was the direction he wanted to take his career. After graduating from Indiana with a degree in biochemistry, Kirk came to Illinois State in 2014 to pursue his master’s degree in recreation administration.  

Esports Program Director David Kirk

Esports Program Director David Kirk

“I loved being on a college campus,” he said. “I loved being around intramurals and folks who were concerned with their overall health and wellness, whether they were taking part in recreation to make friends, take care of their body, their mind, whatever their needs are.”  

Kirk was a lifelong gamer. So he decided to focus his graduate research on the potential engagement gaming programs could produce for college campuses. 

“A lot of the research and justification for campus recreation programs is recruitment and retention and how having a facility like the Student Fitness Center can improve a student’s experience while they are here,” he said. “I thought esports could be similar.” 

Kirk’s own experience as a college student and gamer helped formalize his approach toward esports. Many college students use video games to maintain friendships with people back home and become a part of new online communities. Kirk was no different. Even today, one of the primary ways he stays in touch with friends is through games of Fortnite. 

At Akron Kirk found that having spaces for students to play games helps them get involved with campus. The program would frequently draw in students that already had powerful computers because they wanted to meet people with similar interests. Many of those students would end up joining the club teams and some would even end up as varsity esports athletes. 

“We know that students are taking part in gaming in large numbers,” Kirk said. “I want students to be able to engage in these activities while building the social capital of our campus.” 

Kirk returned to Illinois State because the developing program shares his commitment to students of all skill levels. He is also looking forward to partnering with the Creative Technology Program, formerly known as the Arts Technology Program, which recently announced it is developing a game design sequence. This will be a major differentiator for Redbird Esports as it looks to recruit varsity level talent. 

“It’s fantastic having a game design program here because a lot of the students I am looking to recruit want to know that is an option. They are interested in esports and game design is the most applicable,” he said. 

There are still a lot of burning questions people have and many of those details are still to be determined. Some upcoming tasks include deciding what game titles will have varsity teams, finding talent for those teams, building out the leadership structure at the club level, and developing gaming spaces for the competitive and casual alike. Kirk is looking forward to these challenges and is thankful to have Illinois State’s full support. 

“It is great that Illinois State is doing this the right way,” he said. “They are going all in and devoting the proper amount of resources needed to build a comprehensive program that can engage all student gamers regardless of their skill level or desire to compete.” 

More than anything, Kirk is happy to be back in Normal. 

“I love Illinois State University and I love being a Redbird,” Kirk said. “A lot of what got me to where I am today is because of the education I received here and the experience I had working here.” 

Want more info on esports at Illinois State? Check out the Redbird Esports webpage.