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The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

Panther Esports boots up for the future

MVC opens new opportunities for competitive esports
With+the+inclusion+of+esports+in+the+Missouri+Valley+Conference%2C+Panther+Esports+looks+forward+to+more+chances+to+engage+with+competitors+in+person.
NI ARCHIVES
With the inclusion of esports in the Missouri Valley Conference, Panther Esports looks forward to more chances to engage with competitors in person.

From the Panther Esports gaming lounge in the tunnel between Maucker Union and Lang Hall, students gather in between classes for a quick game of Rock Band or NBA 2K. However, freshman and Panther Esports social media manager Cade Bonnette is dreaming of competing on a bigger stage.

LAN events, standing for Local Area Network, emphasize the competitive, in-person aspect of gaming. All of the esports competitors are in the same venue, computers connected to the same network.

“It’s not just, you know, five nerds at a keyboard in this room right here,” Bonnette said. “You’re on a stage in front of a live crowd and your opponents are across from you. And you can yell and scream at each other and get in each other’s heads. The crowd will get in your head — it’s a moment.”

Panther Esports currently has several competitive teams for various games, including Overwatch, Valorant, Rocket League and Call of Duty. However, the teams don’t get to travel to LAN events often due in part to the cost of transportation. Many esports competitors hope that one recent development could change some of that.

This spring, esports was officially added to the Missouri Valley Conference. While UNI did not register for the very first season, nine Valley schools are currently competing in an eight week long season. Indiana State, Missouri State, Evansville, Southern Illinois, Illinois State, Valparaiso, Murray State, Bradley and Belmont are currently in week five of competition, and the season will conclude with an in-person LAN conference tournament, site to be determined.

I know these teams will perform, and people are going to hear Northern Iowa across the nation and the Missouri Valley Conference.

— Cade Bonnette, Panther Esports Social Media Manager

Panther Esports plans to join the league in the fall, and they’re looking forward to more opportunities to compete and especially more options for LAN events in the Missouri Valley. In the meantime, their teams are keeping busy competing with other schools in the NECC, a conference for collegiate esports teams from all across the nation.

“Because of our location we get put in a Midwestern kind of league, so we’ll compete against schools not only from Iowa but Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan,” Bonnette said. The Call of Duty team plays in a separate conference, the Call of Duty League, and has played teams from as far away as Louisiana and Canada.

For the students who choose to play on a team, Bonnette says it’s a serious commitment. Players try out to be placed on a team, and in some games, Panther Esports has a varsity, JV and JJV team. Once on a team, the players practice each week to improve their game and how they work together as a team.

 “You’re representing UNI, you want to do the best you can,” Bonnette said. “It’s not just representing UNI. You’re representing your team and you’re representing yourself, so you want to put in the best effort you can.”

Aside from the competitive aspect, Panther Esports also wants to be a space of community for everyone. Students are encouraged to stop by the esports lounge for some casual gaming or to socialize.

“I would love to always see people in here. I love seeing their faces and, you know, I love talking to people,” Bonnette said. “I love our casual gamers. I love our esports gamers. We’re just one big family.”

The esports lounge is open for anyone to stop by 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday. They also host a weekly Super Smash Bros tournament at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesdays.

However the esports environment may change in the coming years, Bonnette has high hopes for UNI.

“I’m really excited to see where our teams will do because I know our teams are going to make that LAN, and we’re gonna kill it,” he said. “I have very strong faith in Panther Esports. I know these teams will perform, and people are going to hear Northern Iowa across the nation and the Missouri Valley Conference.”

More information on Panther Esports can be found on their Instagram @unipantheresports and online at esports.uni.edu.

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MALLORY SCHMITZ, News Editor

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