Redbird Esports is set to move into a new home next fall.

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In October, the Board of Trustees approved a $5.95 million renovation to the Bowling and Billiards Center (BBC) that will transform the event room in the building’s south end into an esports arena and gaming area. The completed space will be one of the largest of its kind in the nation at over 11,000 square feet and feature 72 high-end gaming PCs, dedicated team showcase spaces, the most popular and latest generation gaming consoles, space for tabletop games, a broadcast and production booth, and student support rooms.

Console space rendering
Not everyone who games does so on a high-end computer. The arena will have Nintendo Switch, Sony PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X consoles available for casual student use. Image courtesy of Gensler.

Dawn Pote, executive director of Campus Recreation, said the BBC was a natural place for Redbird Esports to set up its headquarters.

“The BBC is a great building for bowling and billiards, and this gives us the opportunity to make the activity room into something that will truly meet a student and university need,” she said. “And to be able to do that at the main entrance of the campus is just phenomenal.”

The new project ensures that as many Redbirds as possible can engage with the rapidly growing program. Redbird Esports quickly outgrew The Vault, a high-tech gaming space housed in the Student Fitness Center, and the Digital Innovation, Graphics, and Gaming Studio (DIGGS) in Julian Hall. In addition to the three varsity esports teams, there are 18 registered student organizations (RSOs) that fall under the Redbird Esports umbrella, boasting a cumulative membership of over 1,000 students. The Vault also serves as an academic class space for the School of Kinesiology and Recreation and the Creative Technologies Game Design program. Both spaces will continue to be used the Redbird Esports and other campus organizations after the arena is opened.

Broadcast room rendering
Many students who pursue careers in esports want to be involved as broadcasters of these competitions. This room will allow students to practice their craft in a space with all the technology needed to host a professional esports event. “It will allow us to up our broadcast game,” Kirk said. Image courtesy of Gensler.

“One of the things that the Vault and DIGGS allow us to do is to compete at a high level by removing some of the barriers and accessibility issues for high-level equipment,” said Redbird Esports Program Director David Kirk. “What it doesn’t allow us to do is to provide space for all students who are interested in gaming.”

The new arena enables Redbird Esports to fulfill its vision by addressing the four pillars of the program: competitive, club, casual, and career. Competitive focuses on building the already successful Redbird Esports varsity teams; club supports the RSOs; casual engages players of all skill and interest levels; and career gives students who want to enter the gaming and esports industry the tools they need to succeed and set them apart from others. The final design will be flexible enough to transform quickly from an esports arena to a community event space to a high-tech classroom.

“Across the board we were looking at the multipurpose aspect of the space and tried to consider the needs of all of our different users,” Pote said.

Team room rendering
This is a space for teams to meet between matches to analyze game footage, strategize, and take a bit of a mental break from competition. Image courtesy of Gensler.

The development of the space will also create new opportunities to host regional and national esports events at Illinois State University.

“This space is truly fit to not only accommodate our student population, but it is flexible so that we can start to look at bringing in the collegiate Overwatch Championship, the collegiate League of Legends championship, or even some professional events,” Kirk said.

The BBC closed on November 20 in the run-up to construction, which is slated to begin in mid-December. The BBC will also undergo several improvements to make it a more accessible space for students, including all-gender restrooms, a double-door entrance, and modified reception areas. Construction is expected to continue through Summer 2022 with an expected opening date of Fall 2022.

Office area rendering
This image shows a rendering of the program director’s office and student support spaces. The support spaces are designated for students who are interested in the career-oriented aspects of esports, including social media, graphic design, broadcasting, event planning, and technical support. Image courtesy of Gensler.

“We were really intentional about identifying and eliminating barriers to participation with the goal of creating a welcoming environment,” Pote said.

Kirk and Pote are excited to see the arena become a reality and engage students with an esports experience that can only be found at Illinois State.

“Having a facility like this does a lot for every aspect of our program,” Kirk said. “Having a space as robust as this and being able to bring in esports events across the nation are big selling points to recruit students to play on our varsity teams and students who want to become involved with the industry more broadly.”

“From the beginning, we’ve been talking about having this program be an opportunity for student success inside and outside of the classroom,” Pote added. “The addition of this facility will allow the program to grow in ways we have been unable to explore to date. There are exciting days ahead.”

Varsity room rendering
A rendering of a varsity room in the Redbird Esports arena. These rooms are for varsity esports teams to be able to practice and compete while still having the main gaming space open for casual and club use. Image courtesy of Gensler.

Redbird Esports currently supports Overwatch, League of Legends, and Rocket League at a varsity level. They also support a number of other game titles at a club level including Rainbow Six Siege, Call of Duty, CSGO, Fortnite, and more. If you want to stay up to date with the Redbird Esports program you can follow their announcements and updates on Twitter. They also stream the majority of their competitive matches on their Twitch channel.