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University of Illinois to Host First Esports Tournament

Illini Esports, a student-run club featuring several competitive video gaming teams, will host its first-ever invitational tournament this weekend with nearly 300 competitors from five states.

(TNS) — This weekend at State Farm Center, a new variety of athletes will take center court, and they're bringing controllers.

Illini Esports, a student-run club featuring several competitive video gaming teams, is hosting its first ever invitational tournament at the University of Illinois' premier indoor sports venue.

All day Friday through Sunday, spectators and gamers from across the Midwest will take the stage at State Farm Center for the Illini Esports Invitational, competing in live-streamed brackets.

With the help of several campus and local sponsors, including the University of Illinois Foundation and Division of Intercollegiate Athletics, victors from four mainline competitions will share a total prize pool of $20,000.

"This event is the first time we're having a lot of backing from the university itself," said Illini Esports President AJ Taylor, a graduate student at the UI.

The big-stage event snowballed from Illini Esports' pitch to the UI Foundation's "UIDEA" program, a 12-week accelerator for ideas that could benefit the university's advancement team.

"Esports is an emerging area for potential alumni engagement and philanthropy at universities across the country, and the UIDEA team successfully pitched this event as one part of a broader esports advancement strategy at Illinois worth piloting," said Kathryn Blum, assistant vice president for strategic innovation at the UI foundation.

Three popular games — League of Legends, Rocket League and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate — will headline the event. A mix of entry fees, sponsorships and Illini Esports funds pay for prizes.

The UI has student competitors and teams in each event. Making the trip: Gamers from Illinois Wesleyan, Illinois State, Eastern Illinois and Southern Illinois University, plus school-sanctioned esports teams from Saint Xavier in Chicago, Maryville University and St. Louis University.

Collegiate gamers from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee are registered as well, Taylor said. In all, they expect nearly 300 serious competitors and more than 1,000 spectators to join the proceedings. The tournaments will stream live at

The sponsor list for the weekend includes local names such as Visit Champaign County and the UI Community Credit Union. Tech companies HP, Dell and MSI are providing equipment, i.e. computers and monitors, to run the event, Taylor said.

After the games begin, panelists from the esports industry will share professional advice. Speakers from video game developer Riot Games, professional esports organizations Evil Geniuses and FlyQuest, and the UI's own virtual reality initiative are set to appear.

Spectators can still register for free. VIP tickets for floor access, a Saturday reception and several other perks are available at $50 for students and recent grads, and $100 for other adults.

The scale far exceeds any event Illini Esports has previously hosted on its own turf.

"To be able to do this at a massive venue, allowing spectators to come in, to have VIP tickets if people want to sell merchandise or have vendors or booths available for local sponsors, we've never had something to this level," Taylor said.

©2023 The News-Gazette (Champaign, Ill.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.