Esports facility opens at Illinois Wesleyan University, teaches students important life lessons

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EAST PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — The Illinois Wesleyan University (IWU) Titans got a new kind of coliseum today — a newly-renovated facility allowing students to play Esports.

Esports players at the university said there’s a stigma about Esports that needs to be broken.

“This isn’t just the days of kids sitting in a basement for 12 hours a day drinking Mountain Dew and eating Doritos,” said Esports Director Callum Fletcher. “This is a social environment, this is a community that students can come in from around the world, and from day one, have something in common with people they’ve never met.”

Fletcher said the building — located at 1316 N. Franklin Ave. in Bloomington, is a place for students to come and succeed in all facets of life.

“They can practice broadcasting and commentary, they can do production, they can be a part of the team, we have student worker positions available for graphic design and student coaching,” Fletcher said. “It’s this cool ecosystem where if you’re interested in esports we can create opportunities for you within our program that enable you to build resumes, which turn into internships, which will hopefully turn into careers in the field.”

The team is made of over 40 student-athletes who compete in competitions against teams around the world.

Jackson Gilles just transferred to IWU from Robert Morris University this semester. One of his biggest reasons was Esports.

“I hurt my shoulder and couldn’t play sports anymore and I found that playing esports was a good alternative to my competitive side of my life,” Gilles said.

Gilles, a business & psychology major, said Esports has taught him to analyze situations and be able to explain them to people.

“It’s not just playing video games,” he continued. “You learn a lot of skills from it that you can apply to later in life. Most college athletes don’t go on to be pro, you learn team building, you learn how to work with others, you learn stuff about yourself, how you deal with other people.”

TJ Bjorklund, the program’s League of Legends coach and Esports specialist, said the players enjoy giving back to the community too.

“Right now we’re doing a food drive. We’ve been doing different things like watching worlds, which is going on,” Bjorklund said.

Fletcher said students can get scholarships to play Esports at IWU.

“That’s part of their larger academic and Esports scholarship which typically covers about half of their tuition,” Fletcher said.

“As this program has continued to grow for the last two and a half years, we’ve looked at adding new games, which adds new students. As a competitive program, we wanted our new space to capture the competitive spirit of the new program, but we wanted to make sure we didn’t stray away from our roots of creating that community of gamers for gamers. This new space allows our students to come in in a bigger capacity, to just be students. We have student lounges where students can watch shows, hang out with friends, and watch matches, we have the Coliseum where students can come and play in a really serious setting.”

Fletcher said the building began to be renovated in early 2020. They began installing chairs and putting together computers in July and moved into the facility in August.

He added that you don’t have to be a pro to join the program, there are places for people who just play for fun.

You can find the IWU program’s Twitter account here.

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