Panther Esports boots up for the future – Northern Iowan

Students often gather at the Panther Esports gaming lounge, nestled in the passageway between Maucker Union and Lang Hall, for a brief stint of NBA 2K or Rock Band between lessons. Yet, in his mind, Cade Bonnette, a freshman and social media manager for Panther Esports, visualizes competing on a larger platform.

LAN events, an abbreviation for Local Area Network, underscore the in-person competitive aspect of gaming. Every esports player is in the same location with their computers on the same network.

“It’s about more than a few geeks on a keyboard in a tiny room,” Bonnette expressed, “You’re on display before a live gathering, with your competitors opposite you. You can taunt and shout at each other, trying to psych each other out. The audience can also affect your mindset — it’s a profound experience.”

Panther Esports currently fields numerous competitive teams for a variety of games, such as Overwatch, Valorant, Rocket League, and Call of Duty. However, due to transportation costs, they seldom get a chance to travel to LAN events. Many esports players are hopeful that a recent development might incentivize a change to this situation.

This spring saw esports officially inducted into the Missouri Valley Conference. While UNI did not participate in the inaugural season, nine Valley schools are at present involved in an eight-week season. Indiana State, Missouri State, Evansville, Southern Illinois, Illinois State, Valparaiso, Murray State, Bradley, and Belmont are currently in the fifth week of competition, which will culminate with an in-person LAN conference tournament held at a site yet to be determined.

I firmly believe our teams will dominate, and Northern Iowa’s name will reverberate nationwide and across the Missouri Valley Conference.

— Cade Bonnette, Panther Esports Social Media Manager

Urging to be part of the league in the forthcoming fall, Panther Esports eagerly awaits opportunities to compete more, with a specific focus on LAN events in the Missouri Valley. Their teams are presently engaged in competitions with other colleges within NECC – a nationwide collegiate esports teams conference.

“Owing to our geographical location, we are typically assigned to a Midwestern league, where we square off with schools not only from Iowa but also Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan,” explained Bonnette. The Call of Duty team, separate from the conference, has faced teams from Louisiana and Canada in the Call of Duty League.

Being on a team is an earnest involvement for students, according to Bonnette. Players audition for a team spot, with Panther Esports offering varsity, JV, and JJV teams for some games. Once affiliated with a team, the members hone their skills and team dynamics through weekly practice sessions.

“You’re emblematic of UNI, wanting to give it your best shot,” Bonnette stated. “But, it’s more than just representing UNI. You’re representing your team and yourself, so you wish to commit the best effort you can.”

Beyond competitiveness, Panther Esports also aspires to be a communal space. Students are invited to visit the esports lounge for informal gaming or social interactions.

“I always wish to see people in here. I enjoy seeing their faces and chatting with them,” Bonnette said. “I am a fan of both our casual and esports gamers. We’re all part of the same family.”

The esports lounge is open to all from 11 a.m to 10 p.m, Monday through Friday. A Super Smash Bros tournament also takes place every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.

Regardless of how the esports landscape may change over time, Bonnette harbors immense expectations for UNI.

“I’m thrilled at the prospect of seeing our teams perform because I am certain that they will reach that LAN, and we will dominate,” he confidently said. “I have immense trust in Panther Esports. I am confident that these teams will perform, and Northern Iowa will gain recognition across the country and the Missouri Valley Conference.”

Find more details on Panther Esports on their Instagram page @unipantheresports or on their website

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