Parker Penn’s journey to eSports stardom at IWU

Nicole Walsh, Staff Writer

Parker Penn’s journey to eSports stardom at IWU

Three years ago, Illinois Wesleyan University recruited one of the best “Fortnite” players in the United States – Parker Penn. Penn played against top “Fortnite” players regularly in his prime. “I was competing with the top 0.1% in North America each week in cups and online scrims,” he said.

When Penn first arrived at IWU, there were only a handful of “Fortnite” players competing. One year later, Penn’s teammates lost their interest in the game, leaving him as the only “Fortnite” player here. 

Unable to enter competitions without teammates, Penn turned his attention toward a new  game: “Valorant.” “Valorant” was added to IWU eSports as the sixth competitive game in which students compete. 

Both “Valorant” and “Fortnite” are shooter games, so Penn said his “weapon skill transferred instantly.” What did take some time to get used to was each agent’s specific abilities that all play a role in a five-person team in “Valorant.” 

While “Fortnite” is a battle royale game in which teams of players must compete to survive the longest in order to win, “Valorant” is a more structured team versus team game. One “Valorant” match consists of a best of 25 series of games where teams take turns attacking and defending.

The attacking team is given a bomb-like device that they must plant and protect until detonation. The defending team is tasked with defusing the device before it explodes. While all of this is occurring, the two teams also try to eliminate each other.

Because of the difference in gameplay between “Fortnite” and “Valorant,” “it took time to learn the new characters’ abilities and rotations,” Penn said. Though, once he saw the opportunity to compete, he immediately began to practice.

On February 7, the eSports facility held tryouts for the new “Valorant” varsity roster. To no one’s surprise, Penn made the team. As the in-game leader, Penn comes up with strategies at the start of each round and guides the team through matches against other university “Valorant” teams.

“Valorant” coach Lorenzo Parola said that Penn was “the obvious choice for the team captain” due to his previous experience in similar games including “Fortnite,” “H1Z1” and “Overwatch.” 

Aiming and general skill transfer well between games, but the amount of time and practice Penn put into mastering “Valorant” did not go unnoticed. “He is so determined to excel at whichever game we have him compete in,” IWU eSports director Cora Kennedy said. 

The “Valorant” team is set to compete at multiple tournaments this semester, and Penn cannot wait to see what his team has in store. Penn’s teammates are first-years Logan Bettenhausen and Marshall Suttles, sophomore Nicole Walsh, and junior Aidan Liljehorn.

Suttles is excited to watch how IWU’s “Valorant” team develops. “We’re a young team and really good already. Just wait until next year when it’s us five competing again after a whole year of practicing together,” he said.

Penn further explained: “I’m positive that this team is going to become closer and grow more than we think is possible. There’s just a natural chemistry between us that has me excited to compete alongside everyone.”