NORMAL, Ill. (WMBD) — Illinois State University is leveling up its competitiveness when it comes to the world of esports.
In its third year, the ISU Redbirds esports program recently hired coaches for its varsity esports teams. The university offers teams in three popular esports titles; Overwatch, League of Legends and Rocket League.
Much like the football team and other traditional sports teams, players on esports teams compete against other schools from across the country and get coached on how to improve their game play.
“We’ve found national success every year since. Our first year, we were highly successful in League of Legends, placing top 8 in the nation,” said esports program manager, Jack Blahnik.
After the successful first couple of years, Blahnik said the program decided it needed to make a move to stay as one of the nation’s top collegiate programs.
“As we started to think about what the future of our program would look like, it became apparent that we needed more support for our varsity players,” Blahnik said.
The coaches for Rocket League, Overwatch and League of Legends are the first in program history.
“We actually did a national search for head coaches across the country and had a lot of competitive applicants,” Blahnik said.
TJ Bjorklund was brought on to coach the League of Legends team. Bjorklund said he got into the game after being introduced by some school friends.
“It’s five vs five effectively, where two teams try to destroy the other team’s base,” Bjorklund said.
A former soccer player turned top-30 League of Legends player; Bjorklund said many elements of traditional sports exist in esports.
“For me, I take a lot of those same premises and bring them into esports; so its how are we specifically drilling a certain element, making sure we have the basics of being a team, being a competitor, saying ‘good game,’ shaking hands, and really trying to refine the craft,” Bjorklund said.
Rocket League head coach, Zachary Dell said he got into the game when it first came out in 2015. Now he hopes to develop players’ in-game skills.
“These players haven’t been coached formally before, and a lot of the players we’re going to be bringing in for the future probably haven’t had much coaching unless they come from a specific background,” Dell said.
ISU also offers intramural teams for more casual gamers.