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Illinois State University students interested in esports have a lot to look forward this school year.

Three reasons to be excited about Redbird Esports’ inaugural season

There is a lot to get excited about during the inaugural season of Redbird Esports. We talked to Esports Program Director David Kirk, M.S. ’16, and Esports Graduate Assistant Jack Blahnik ’19 about what the Redbird community can look forward to this year.

Varsity teams

Redbird Esports has a full Rocket League team ready for the game’s fall season. Open tryouts will be held at the beginning of the school year to fill a couple of roles within the League of Legends and Overwatch squads. The regular season for those titles traditionally begins during the spring semester.

Kirk is excited about the skill level of the current teams and expects them all to make some noise when they start their respective seasons.

“The great thing about all three of the teams is that they are going to be highly competitive,” Kirk said. “Our current League players were all top 500 during the last season. In Overwatch, we have one of the highest collective rankings in the country. We’ve got three really great, high-level players and our other roles should start to rank up as they build consistency with their teammates.”

Club and intramural success

While most of the players on the Redbird Esports’ varsity teams were recruited; several players were active during last year’s club seasons. These teams are composed of players who are members of registered student organizations (RSOs) based around a specific game title and exist under the Redbird Esports umbrella.

“Redbird Esports has three pillars: varsity, club, and casual,” Blahnik said. “The club and casual levels are where we build the community side of things. The goal of the entire program is to build that community component and we do that through onboarding RSOs.”

Club teams are a way for students interested in esports to make new friends, build skills in their game of choice, and potentially compete for spots on varsity squads. If a game doesn’t have a varsity team, Kirk and Blahnik look to its club scene to gauge student interest and lay the groundwork for creating a varsity program.

Illinois State’s Rainbow Six: Siege club team was particularly successful during the summer months, competing in the playoffs of several tournaments and pushing some of the top teams in the country to the brink in the process.

“You get to meet other Redbirds and play casually for fun. The intention isn’t for these to be super competitive like you might see at our varsity or even club level. We are focusing on the casual side to hopefully attract more friendly gamers.”–Jack Blahnik ’19

“We are competing at a high level with schools that already have varsity teams in Rainbow Six,” Kirk said. “It is exciting for the development of the program.”

During the spring and summer, Redbird Esports hosted a League of Legends intramural league open to current students, prospective students, faculty, staff, and alumni. These events were well received by participants, and there are plans to expand intramural offerings in the coming months.

Additionally, Redbird Esports has started hosting online gaming events on Sunday nights that are open to all members of the Redbird community. The first event was an online Valorant tournament held on July 19. The next event is a Tetris tournament scheduled for July 26. Blahnik said that they have the next six weeks of Sunday night events laid out and hope to continually build interest as the semester gets underway. As people participate in these events, they get points that they can turn into Redbird Esports swag. One of the first available items is a custom Redbird Esports jersey.

Even though the prizes are great, Blahnik said seeing people come together is the best part of these events.

“You get to meet other Redbirds and play casually for fun,” Blahnik said. “The intention isn’t for these to be super competitive like you might see at our varsity or even club level. We are focusing on the casual side to hopefully attract more friendly gamers.”

So far, that focus is paying off. Redbird Esports’ Discord community currently has over 400 current and prospective students interacting with each other and showing their excitement for the year ahead.

Content creation

Redbird Esports will offer many opportunities for students who want to follow the career path of someone like Illinois State alumna Gabriella Devia-Allen and become an esports broadcaster.

“That is sort of our fourth pillar that we are developing right now,” Kirk said. “We are calling it the Redbird Esports Network (REN), and that is going to be essentially an entrepreneurial startup and is for students who are gaining skills that they can transition into the esports industry in some capacity.”

There are several subgroups within REN for students who are looking to build skills in social media engagement, graphic design, community management, and event promotion. Students will be able to build their portfolio for their future careers through the promotion of Redbird Esports.

“We need people to promote what we are doing in Redbird Esports, not just at the varsity level,” Kirk said. “They are going to lead that charge.”

One of the ways students will lead the way is through an expansion of Redbird Esports’ livestream offerings on Twitch. The Sunday night events are scheduled to be streamed on the platform. Over the course of the year, Redbird Esports plans to expand its presence on Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter, so Redbird Esports fans can engage with the program on their platform of choice.

How to get involved Interested in esports? Join the Redbird Esports Discord server! It is a great place to meet members of the Redbird community who share your interests. Want to see our teams in action? Check out the Redbird Esports Twitch channel. Have additional questions? Contact David Kirk at dkirk@IllinoisState.edu.