Panther eSports eyes athletics



Panther eSports is UNI’s competitive gaming student organization, and the growing organization is hoping to expand in dorms and in UNI athletics.

JOSHUA DAUSENER, Copy Editor | [email protected]

Panther eSports, UNI’s gaming student organization, is undergoing a particularly active semester.

According to eSports Director of Programming Chad Schafer, Panther eSports does both competitive gaming and non-competitive gaming.

“On our competitive side… we have League of Legends (LoL), Overwatch, Counter Strike Global Offensive (CS:GO) Rocket League, Heathstone and tons of other competitive games that, if students show interest, we will create a team for them, and let them compete for scholarships that tournaments have as prizes,” Schafer said.

Many competitive matches have far more than pride at stake. Schafer said that the winners of the LoL tournament eSports participated in offered a $75,000 or three-years-tuition paid prize, while an Overwatch tournament offered the winning team a $7,000 scholarship per person. Junior family services major Ryan Vasquze noted that a former Panther eSports coach received a full-ride scholarship with eSports.

“For our non-competitive side, we focus on trying to get residence halls active in gaming. Working on trying to get people out of their dorm rooms, our big pull is trying to get students to have a community of gamers instead of everyone in their dorms, by themselves, starting at a computer or a console.”

Panther eSports was founded in 2016 and has ballooned to over 320 members in the short amount of time it’s been around, according to the organization’s UNI page.

The group’s leadership is now looking to take Panther eSports to the next level by merging the competitive side of Panther eSports under UNI’s athletics department, and functioning as a sport rather than as a student organization.

According to Panther eSports vice president and junior computer science major Selah Lawrensen, the chief benefit of merging with the athletics department would be improved access to the equipment necessary to run the games eSports players compete in.

“A lot of our players don’t have great computers that can actually run the games. If you have higher frames on your computer… you can have better aim and better reaction time,” Lawrensen said. “When a student has great aim or great talent in a video game, and they don’t have the proper resources to purchase a $1,000 or greater computer, they can really suffer… and they can be worse at the game. Just having funding and having sponsors to give us those resources when we have talent… that’s what merging with the athletic department would do.”

Other members of eSports also cited improved access to scholarships for players and improved ability to market to students looking for a quality eSports program in a university.

Schafer stated that merging with athletics may make it easier to rent out spaces in facilities to use in the short-term, and may make it possible for eSports to get its own facility in the long-term.

Schafer noted that eSports is still in the early stages of the process. He said eSports has only had one meeting with the athletics department, which took place last spring, and that eSports is in the process of planning future meetings.

“I think a lot of people don’t understand how big it is,” Vasquze said. “We have good players, we just need support from the university… It can draw in money, draw in students, draw in a bunch of different things.”

eSports adviser Jeffrey Chapin told the NI he believes that while nobody in the athletics department is on-board with the idea, nobody in the department is against it either. Chapin believes that, “eSports is eventually going to be under the athletics department, it’s just whether we’re the trend-setter or we’re behind.”

Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Nathan Christensen said that adding eSports as a varsity sport is not within the athletics department’s immediate plans, writing in a statement, “At this time we are not having discussions of adding eSports as a varsity sponsored sport under the Athletics Department. We have and will continue to assist this group with facilities needs, but beyond that we are not pursuing adding them at this time.”

The club is also preparing for UNI Gaming Conference (UNICON) 2018, which is on Saturday, Nov. 10 from 9 a.m. – 10 p.m. UNICON is eSport’s semi-annual major gaming event where they team up with various other student organizations to offer a variety of gaming types for all to play.

Schafer noted that eSports had rented out “the entire Union” for the event.

“Our main focus is three tournaments,” Schafer said. “One LoL, Overwatch, and Smash Brothers.”Director of Finance Jared Charnas added, “We also have FIFA, NBA2K, we’ll have other organizations there such as Panther Tabletop Gaming; and they’ll have Dungeons and Dragon and pretty much any other board game you can think of.”

Schafer said that the UNI Veterans Association (UNIVA) will be holding a raffle to raise money for an upcoming Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) conference. All proceeds from the eSports conference will go towards the UNIVA.

The conference is sponsored by the Cedar Falls Tourism Board.

While the competitive side of eSports looks to merge with athletics, eSports is also looking to bolster the more casual side of gaming.

Schafer said that eSports is currently spearheading an effort to make UNI’s residence hall’s wi-fi compatible with consoles. For now, gaming consoles can only connect to the internet via an ethernet cable in residence halls. According to Chapin, “RA’s have asked us to host social events in dorms, but we can’t because there’s no wireless internet.”

Chapin said that the wi-fi access for consoles is currently in the works.

Students with questions about eSports can reach out to Schafter ([email protected]) or Charnas ([email protected])