Illinois State University welcomed some of the top collegiate League of Legends talent to Redbird Arena October 9–10 for the Sixty Six Games Expo.

“You are going to see every one of these teams playing in the 32-team championship bracket this spring,” Redbird Esports Program Director David Kirk said. “The fact that our brand and reputation in the esports scene is so high makes them want to come here and participate in an event. It really showcases the University in a broader light.”

Former national champions Harrisburg University and Maryville University made the trip to the contest, as did Converse University, a program in its first year that is showing early promise on the national scene. The entire event was broadcast live via Twitch and was on the popular streaming service’s homepage from 7–9 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday. Well-known League of Legends commentators Kari Keone and Lennon White were brought in to give play-by-play to the viewers at home and in the arena.

In addition to the collegiate tournament, six local high schools competed against each other in League of Legends, and an open Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournament was held. Illinois State’s Creative Technologies program was also at the event to show future Redbirds what is possible in our game design program.

“We are able to connect these high school students who have aspirations to play League of Legends in college with esports programs all around the country, including our own,” Kirk said. “It’s an opportunity that these students can’t get anywhere else.”

The Sixty Six Games Expo was held in previous years at the Grossinger Motors Arena in Downtown Bloomington. For the 2021 event, Sixty Six Games was looking for a new home. Redbird Esports’ rising national profile in the collegiate esports space made Illinois State the top choice to host.

“There was an opportunity to tie this event more to the Redbird Esports program and our Creative Technologies game design curriculum,” said Craig Jackson, director of infrastructure operations networking, said. “We already host a lot of state tournaments in other sports, so it is a natural fit for Illinois State to host this event in Redbird Arena.”

Event organizers would like to invite more teams and vendors to next year’s event to create a larger convention atmosphere. They are also looking to add more game titles to both the collegiate and high school tournaments, including Overwatch and Rocket League, which both have varsity Redbird Esports teams.

“Being able to get more teams here and more high school students connected to our programs in different game titles is a big goal of mine,” Kirk said.

Matt Hawkins, director of sports and market development for the Bloomington-Normal Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the bureau is looking to make this a yearly event.

“It’s our role to be looking at new events and new ways to be bringing visitors to our community,” he said. “We would like people to be able to mark their calendars and say ‘the second weekend of October we are going to Normal for Sixty Six Games.’”

Jackson added that the success of the event will help grow Redbird Esports into an even stronger player in esports.

“Having it here really solidifies how much the campus is truly committed to esports and that word gets out nationally and internationally,” he said. “This event helps feed the program and the academic side of it where we can create new curriculum for these kinds of things.”