Illini Esports


Over the past few years, the Esports industry has boomed. The global market has surpassed the one-billion-dollar milestone, with nearly 500 million active followers. We wanted to know how Illinois students are taking advantage of this explosive industry at the collegiate level, so we sat down with current student Sean, a director at Illini Esports, to find out more.

The Illini Esports’ Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO) team takes a picture before a national tournament held at the United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls.

What all does Illini Esports entail?

“We have two different groups: our competitive teams and our community. All in all, we have 10 different games that we focus on: League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive [CSGO], Defense of the Ancients [Dota] 2, Rocketleague, Smite, Overwatch, Fortnite, Rainbow Six Siege, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds [PUBG], and Heroes of the Storm.”

What’s it like to be a member, and how do you become one?

“People can join us any time. We have tons of different channels on discord [a voice and text chat for gamers] where people can go and play games, find people to go get food, even find people to study with. It’s entirely free and open for people to join. There’s no entry fee and no cost. Going to meetings isn’t required, but it definitely helps you learn about the staff, what we offer in the club in terms of the games and teams, and what kind of events we run throughout the year.”

Students participate in weekly open gaming hours at the Innovation Studio in the Armory. This gives members a time and space to meet other members, play games, and just hang out.

What kinds of events do you host for your members?

“A lot of times we organize our events based around our community. We’ll set up a stream or link to streams that are being played online. We have PC-building events, and then we have a LAN [local area network] event after where everyone can bring their computers and hang around for hours playing some games and ordering food. It’s a lot of just getting our community involved.

“We also work hard to build the bridge between our competitive teams and our community. We might have the competitors join the community in a small tournament. We just want to give people a way to socialize rather than just sit in their rooms and not get that interpersonal interaction.”

How many people are in Illini Esports?

“From both our discord membership numbers and our online email subscription, we have about 1,500. Active members kind of depend on the event. We have a lot of smaller community events that can be 10 to 15 people depending on what the event is, but our larger viewing parties and our local area network can get big. Our LAN events can pull a couple hundred. With viewing parties, the largest we’ve had was about 500 or so. That was at our last League of Legends party that we had at the State Farm Center.” 

Students gather at the State Farm Center to watch a live stream of a League of Legends tournament.

You had a viewing party at the State Farm Center?

“Yeah, we worked with the athletic department toward the end of the semester. We brought in really good numbers, and they were pretty impressed with the amount of effort we put in. They were impressed with the amount of time people came in, because the showing was during Korean hours. Our time, it was about 3:00 in the morning or so and went until about 6:00 in the morning.” 

What does the structure of the organization look like?

“We have a president, a vice president of community, and a vice president of competition. The two vice presidents work hand in hand with one other. They represent the two parts of the organization: the competitive team and the gaming community as a whole. Under the VPs we have directors or community organizers for each specific game. The captains of the competitive teams go back and talk to the VP of competition, and the community coordinators report back to the VP of community.

“We have a social media team that works with our outreach person on sponsorships or digital partnerships. We also have our social gaming team that organizes social gaming hours every Thursday and a board game night once a month. They do all of the in-person events that aren’t necessarily related to a specific game.

“We view the group in terms of an upper and lower structure. The lower structure organizes events and teams, whereas the upper structure deals with partnerships, talking to the school, and communicating with companies. All the upper levels are voted in and have to be prior directors, while some of the lower coordinators, captains, social gaming team members, or social media team members can be anyone from the community. Often, it’s their first year and they want to get more involved. It’s nice because then there’s a lot of room to grow in the organization.”

Our nationally ranked League of Legends team plays on stage at the national collegiate event.

Tell us about the success of your competitive teams this year.

“League of Legends did really well. We’ve had a lot of top five finishes in the Big Ten and the university league. Last November, there was a professional event happening in Chicago, Intel Extreme Masters [IEM]. We were approached by IEM and their marketing department because they were doing a secret collegiate bracket. The finalists got to play on stage at IEM Chicago with the pros. And we made it to the finals for our CSGO team. They got second overall.

“Our Smite team this past year won first place in the national tournament, bringing home some scholarship money for them. Our Rocket League team was number one in the nation for almost an entire semester, and they won their tournament. Our PUBG team won their first season as well. On and off, we’ve been consistently within the top ten, top five, top three, depending on the season.”

Do you have a favorite memory from being in Esports?

“We had a presenter from Nvidia—a lead organization in artificial intelligence computing—come and speak for the first hour of an event we were hosting. We also had a professor who did a lot of supercomputing, AI work, and hardware work with Illinois come and speak. This wasn’t just gaming, this was the whole tech industry and what it means for computing and hardware. After, students could go up and talk to them and learn a little bit more in depth about what they do and how that impacts everyday lives in the industry.

“I thought that was really cool. This was real-world application with presenters that offered a lot of insightful knowledge on more than just video games.”

How can students learn more if they want to join?

“Our discord would be one of the biggest ways to see what games we play and what we offer toward our community. We also have a website that shows the games and a general overview of what we do. We also always have a booth out on Quad Day.”

With 1,000 registered student organizations (RSOs) at Illinois, the possibilities are endless. To learn more about the Illini Esports and how you can get involved, check out their website and socials below.