Illini Esports Invitational gets ready to game this weekend


James Hoeck

Super Smash Bros. Esport competitors practice during a break period during the first day of the invitational on Friday afternoon.

By Drew Friberg, Staff Writer

On Friday, Illini Esports will embark on its biggest journey yet.

After a year and a half of planning, the RSO’s inaugural Illini Esports Invitational is just around the corner, with prize pools upward of $20,000 across three titles and an empty State Farm Center waiting to be filled.

Unlike other Local Area Network events held by Illini Esports in the past that focused on building community within the University, esports teams from across the Midwest now have the opportunity to compete against Illinois’ chapters and win huge money while they are at it.

Friday through Sunday will feature nonstop competition between Illini Esports’ teams and other Midwestern teams in “Rocket League,” “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” and “League of Legends.”

For AJ Taylor, graduate student studying food science and president of Illini Esports, free entry for everyone was a priority in holding the event. Additionally, Illini Esports wanted to make sure that the event offers something to interest everyone, including booths for merchandise, panels from professionals within the scene and open gaming areas. They hope the event will help grow the esports community on campus.

“I’m a very ambitious person,” Taylor said. “I’m trying to make it as close (as possible) to a small gaming expo with a collegiate invitational, while also having panels, development, vendors … You can come and watch the games if you want to, but if you want to play your own game we’ll have a free-play station. We’re trying to cast as wide of a net as we can.”

Of the 16 teams in each bracket, Illinois makes up a small chunk of the field. In the League of Legends bracket, No. 4 Illini Esports Orange is facing off against No. 5 Illini Blue in the first round. In Rocket League, No. 5 Illini Esports Orange takes on No. 4 Oakland University B while No. 6 Illini Blue takes on No. 3 Heartland Community College. In Smash, the Illini boast one crew and will take on Oakland as well.

While one of the Illini’s finest will have to make a run in the loser’s bracket after round one in the League of Legends bracket, each team in the Rocket League bracket has a chance to make it to the second round of the winner’s bracket. 

Luis Salik, junior in Engineering and captain of Illini Esports Orange, thinks that his team has a good chance to compete with anyone in an LAN setting.

“Pretty much every single team here has a top 100 or semi-pro-caliber player on their team,” Salik said. “I think it’s more about who’s going to be ready more at this point. We usually are really, really good at in-person competitions because we have good chemistry. I think we have a decent chance of making it pretty far.”

As for League of Legends, Illinois’ history speaks for itself. In back-to-back seasons, the Illini placed top four in the 2018 and 2019 Collegiate League of Legends Championships. After placing top 16 in 2021, the Invitational will serve as great practice for the team before the rest of the regular season. 

The team currently sits at third in the Midwest, good enough for a spot in the playoffs if the team holds third place.

As for the Smashers, the crew of five have all competed at the highest level in regional and local tournaments. With the local scene that the University provides with tournaments like Slambana put on weekly, the lineup is fraught with competitive experience.

In addition to the competitive aspirations of the players, the Illini Esports staff are looking for a great experience. Salik doubles as Rocket League’s competitive coordinator for Illini Esports, and his aspirations for the event go further than just his results for Illini Esports Orange. 

“Outside of our hard-working staff, not very many people know about us,” Salik said. “Helping Illini Esports grow and having that outside support this weekend is incredibly crucial.”

With an event of this stature, everyone’s hands have been full helping publicize and set up the event. Hunter Farnham, freshman in Information Sciences and member of Illini Esports, has his eyes set on helping run a smooth event.

“My motivation is just having the event go well,” Farnham said. “I want as many people to know about it as possible. And then also, just as a spectator, I want to have fun. The more people that show up, the more fun it’ll be.”

Admission is free for University students. The Invitational begins on Friday and runs from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. The event continues Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and concludes Sunday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Livestreams of the matches are available on Illini Esports’ Twitch account at


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