Esports Gaining Popularity Among McLean County High School and College Students

BLOOMINGTON-NORMAL, Ill. (WMBD) – Competitive games or eSports have grown in popularity nationwide over the past decade.

Many high schools and colleges are offering video game teams or clubs and are starting to treat them like a traditional sport like football or soccer.

In the Twin Cities, e-sports has become popular with Illinois State University and Illinois Wesleyan University, with both programs having teams that consistently rank in national tournaments and compete with students and players from around the world. whole.

“Our teams are among those fortunate enough to be not only some of the best collegiate teams, but also some of the best teams in all of North America,” said David Kirk, ISU E-Sports Director. .

Kirk has been with the ISU’s esports program since January 2020 and said the program has grown in just under two years. From around 60 students to now over 1,000.

Kirk said the university was the first in Illinois to offer scholarships for video games and one of the first public universities to do so in the United States.

“You can play against some of the best players in the world from the comfort of your own home or in a space like this; So I think the limited barriers in esports are the reason its popularity is growing, ”Kirk said.

The ISU Board of Directors recently approved the investment of nearly $ 6 million in a new, state-of-the-art gaming facility that will provide the 21 varsity players and thousands of casual Redbird players with more than space to train and relax.

“We want to be able to provide these students with the opportunity to compete and compete on the highest level of equipment available,” Kirk said.

At Illinois Wesleyan, students can also win scholarships and play competitively at their Franklin Street facility. E-Sports Director Cora Kennedy said Esports can be any game, including NBA 2K, Super Smash Brothers, or League of Legends.

“It’s just an act of online competition in a matter that pits people against each other from across the country,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said it’s not just about staring at a screen for several hours, and many games include mental and physical challenges.

“Our players will sit there and play at very high intensity for 50 minutes all night and it’s very difficult to maintain; it’s a lot of mental stress for the players, ”said Kennedy.

This spring, the Illinois High School Association will host its very first esports tournaments for the more than 150 high school programs. Unit 5 E-Sports coach Jarrod Rackauskas said it was something that started in McLean County Unit 5 schools five years ago.

“We’ve been around for a while, we’re one of the overwhelming favorites. We’re like a powerhouse in Illinois, ”Rackauskas said.

Rackauskas said the club is more than just potential scholarships or trophies for students.

“Let everything happen, all of these things happen; it’s more about having a group of friends who have common interests and who, when they come to school, can spend time with them, ”Rackauskas said.

Almost 200 colleges and universities in the United States have an eSports team, with more than $ 16 million awarded in scholarships.


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