Game over: Illini Esports Invitational concludes after action-packed weekend


James Hoeck

The Illini Esports team kick off their first day of their first invitational at Statefarm Center hosted by the Esport’s team on Mar. 31, 2023. Multiple Esports teams from different colleges and universities made thier apperance in Champaign-Urbana to compete in the event.

By Drew Friberg, Staff Writer

After the computers shut off and a tired Illini Esports staff left State Farm Center for the final time this weekend, the Local Area Network experience for gamers from across the Midwest concluded. 

$20,000 worth of prize money and various giveaways were given out to Illini Esports Invitational-goers after the dust settled, and each player headed back to their respective desks at home with more competitive experience. Some even have more money in their pockets.

For the hosts, they left almost empty-handed. Across the three titles of “Rocket League,” “League of Legends” and “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate,” the Illini’s crew of five Smashers took home a podium spot in crew battles, with no other Illini placing. With top-tier opponents like Michigan State, Northwood and Akron across the three titles, managing a win was tough business.

For the competitors, though, the LAN was about much more than just money. Competition, camaraderie and putting Illini Esports on the map was the biggest deal.

“It’s the idea that not a lot of players actually get a chance to play at this level,” said Jonathan “Jon” Gibson, freshman in LAS and member of Illini Esports Black Rocket League. “Even if you’re losing 4-0 every game like we did, you’re in a lobby with these players who are basically professional. It helps you more than you realize.”

Although final placements didn’t go the way of the hosts, each team had their fair share of big moments. For Illini Esports Orange in the Rocket League bracket, its best came on day one. Friday saw the Illini’s finest top their pool after a 3-0 sweep of their competition, which featured Grand Valley State, Lyon College and Michigan State. 

As for Illini Esports Orange in League of Legends, the team got a tough draw. Getting put in a group with Michigan State and Waubonsee was tough to overcome, and it went 1-1, losing to the Spartans.

In bracket play, the Illini drew their B team, beating them 1-0 before losing in consecutive matches to be knocked out of the tournament entirely before Sunday. Playing Northwood in the upper bracket semifinals, Orange lost 1-0 before dropping another game to Michigan State. Michigan State and Northwood went on to match up in the finals of the League of Legends competition. 

In the Smash crew battles, Michigan State ended up being Illinois’ kryptonite once more. The match went down to the final stock in the semifinals, with the Spartans once again coming out on top. After this match, Michigan State went on to take down Northwood in the finals, claiming the Smash title.

In particular, it was Michigan State’s “Dice” who caused teams trouble this tournament. The Falco main routinely took five lives from his opponents and was instrumental in the Spartans’ win. He was so dominant, that fellow Smashers began referring to the Smash setup as the “Dice Zone” whenever it was Dice’s turn. 

After taking home zero titles at their home LAN, Illini Esports is still holding their heads high. AJ Taylor, graduate student studying food science and Illini Esports president, was more than happy with the event.

With varsity status for esports at the University still remaining up in the air, cementing Illinois as a pillar in the Midwest’s collegiate esports scene was one thing that Taylor wanted coming into the weekend. After three days, he thinks the event did its job.

“I mean the whole point (of the LAN) is just getting that LAN feeling,” Taylor said. “The feeling that you’re in here playing a game and there’s this cool community around you.”

Part of cultivating that feeling was getting teams in the building. Over 15 Midwestern schools were represented at the LAN. Even with some teams not having varsity status like the Illini, some teams traveled over five hours to come compete. Just getting everyone in one spot was a big hurdle that Illini Esports had to overcome.

“We had a bunch of new players, like (Michigan State) who brought a bunch of teams,” Taylor said. “This is their first ever LAN. This is good experience for them. We just want to keep that same positive experience for everybody moving forward.”

Three days and over 30 hours at the setup later, Northwood took home two event titles in Rocket League and League of Legends, while Michigan State claimed the Smash title. Visit the tournament’s page for a full breakdown of event placings.


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