Sixteen top college esports teams compete at Grossinger Motors Arena

Published: Oct. 22, 2023 at 2:16 PM CDT
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BLOOMINGTON (25News Now) - At Grossinger Motors Arena, the ice rink where the Redbirds play was put aside for rows and rows of gaming PCs.

Instead of hearing the sound of skates and hockey pucks, it was the clicks and taps of computer mice and keyboards on the arena floor. Sunday was the second day of competition in the Sixty Six Games Tournament, hosted in Bloomington-Normal since 2019. It’s the largest gaming tournament in Central Illinois.

There were competitions in League of Legends and Super Smash Brothers Ultimate for college and high school teams. Sixteen collegiate teams were invited, some with the best esports programs in the country.

“We’re pulling from all over the nation which is so cool to see,” chairman of the Sixty Six Games Tournament committee Johnathan Strupek said. “Eight of them were invited and then 16 colleges participated in an online qualifier so we had even more than we were trying to get out here.”

Both League of Legends and Super Smash Brothers Ultimate are fighting games where players can pick one out of a roster of characters to play as. Each character has pros and cons to using them, including special powers and positions on the team.

Instead of a physical sport, it’s a sport of the mind, where players need good reflexes and communication.

“These players do everything from watching tape to working out to traveling around the country competing. It’s way more than just video games at this point,” Strupek said.

Johnathan Strupek
Johnathan Strupek(WEEK)

Many of these college players get scholarships for their skills. Jerry Leathe is a player on the St. Louis-based Maryville University team, which has one of the strongest esports teams in the country. He said he spends ten or more hours a day practicing.

For a League of Legends match there are multiple stages to the game.

“First, you get your opponent that you’re facing off against and you scout them and what picks they are best at and how you’re going to play that in the draft,” Leathe said.

Teams go back and forth drafting characters their team can play as. From there the match actually begins.

An example of the LoL drafting page
An example of the LoL drafting page(WEEK)

“There’s multiple stages to the game but at the end of the day you’re trying to destroy their base before they destroy yours.”

It’s quieter than a typical arena sporting event, but players will often yell out code phrases to each other.

“You might hear phrases like ‘push mid’ or ‘gank bot,’ where you’re like calling for your team to help you make plays in the game because it’s a five against five at the end of the day,” Leathe explained.

Jerry Leathe
Jerry Leathe(WEEK)

Cash prizes were offered for each tournament, totaling an $8,000 prize pool for the League of Legends winning team. There were also tabletop tournaments for Magic the Gathering and Pokemon trading card game players.

Both tournaments were streamed online. Color commentary was provided by streamers remotely.

“We’ll pull in a couple hundred almost maybe even close to a thousand people here,” Strupek said of spectators. “We’ll pull well into the thousands easily online here as well.”

Sixty Six Games has put on a tournament in Bloomington-Normal since 2019. It’s expected to bring in $62,000 in hotel, food, and entertainment revenue to the city.