Game on Panthers: the rise of UNI Esports

Founded in 2016, the UNI Panther Esports team is looking to gain a following due to the cancellation of fall sports this semester on campus. Following the trend of smaller schools in the area, the organization is looking to become a university-sponsored athletics group.

NICK BAUR

With the cancellation of many fall sports at the University of Northern Iowa including the 2020 football season this fall, students and Panther sporting fans alike may find themselves in a state of limbo when it comes to both watching and participating in UNI sports. The Panther Esports Club can help fill that actionless void for this turbulent academic year.

In the past, the club has been able to field multiple competitive teams including League of Legends, Call of Duty, Overwatch and Counter-Strike Global Offensive (CS:GO) with plans to follow suit this year. These teams will find it much easier to safely navigate the uncertain nature of sports competition in the era of COVID-19, due to the virtual nature of their sport and the very limited travel involved. Panther Esports boasts a robust membership of 296 students as of August 6, 2020, but have not let the large membership size deter those interested in gaming or competing with the club. Jacob Hildreth, the president of Panther Esports, asserts there’s plenty of space for any students and gamers ranging from those who wish to compete in esports contests and those who simply want to find their own gaming community.

Although the fall semester is often considered the Panther Esports Club’s “offseason,” it provides time for prospective and current members of the club to gear up for the more competitive focused spring semester. All streamable games and contests through both semesters can be viewed at twitch.tv/Panther_Esports_Club/.

This year, Panther Esports is hoping to reinvigorate its image with a recent rebrand and logo designed by UNI alumnus and former Overwatch player Maris Price. The club will also be looking to reinvigorate its administrative structure by introducing sponsored and unsponsored competitive esports teams that will all operate under the Panther Esports Club banner. This will allow for the club to better allocate their limited budget while also providing the opportunity to field a wide range of competitive esports teams.

Of course, the club plans to work towards becoming an officially sanctioned university sport in the future, much like some of the smaller colleges in the area. However, with the current pandemic putting many established university sports’ futures in jeopardy, the possibility of this happening any time soon is very much up in the air. Until then, the Panther Esports Club will continue to operate like clockwork, serving as a place for those seeking a gaming platform and community.

If the UNI Esports teams won’t scratch that sporting itch, the steady rise in the popularity of competitive gaming has offered a plethora of video games, teams and professional leagues to watch and follow digitally in addition to the UNI esports teams. It has also never been easier for sports fans to follow esports as mainstream media companies such as Bleacher Report and ESPN have recently dedicated resources to covering and analyzing some of the most popular leagues and games. Esports is beginning to experience something of a renaissance as the world finds itself moving more and more online. It is now more of a question of “when” rather than “if” esports will finally ingrain itself into popular sports culture.