None could have predicted the explosive growth of gaming and esports. For many years now, both industries have been booming, shattering expectations and painting a new perspective of the future of entertainment, social interaction and athleticism. It is stunning to think that esports has already reached, or surpassed, the level of conventional sports, and continues to grow. The finale of League of Legends, one of several popular esports games, has been steadily drawing more viewers than the Superbowl for years now. Right now, we have reached a tipping point in public perception on esports and gaming: anyone with even a basic grasp either will understand the immense potential, which has led to many organizations throughout the world aiming to capitalize on the many opportunities esports and gaming offer.
Esports in its children’s shoes
With the size of the market and community behind esports, one could easily overlook that the industry is still extremely novel. While for conventional sports, topics such as the rights of athletes, optimized diets and workout programmes or PR-training are established and well-known, such issues have just recently started to be actively explored by esports organizations. If there is one thing anyone would agree on, it would be that there is a lot of room for improvement for professionalisation in esports. But perhaps the most interesting unexplored region concerns to research: what new insights or innovations can we obtain from esports and how can we apply these in other fields?
When we talk about sports and research, two categories apply: either the research is aimed at improving the performance, or it seeks to understand the effects of the sport on other things. Both can lead to interesting applications outside the field: new motor innovations for the Formula 1 can lead to better car designs for the general public, and insights of the positive effect of physical activity on the well-being of our population allows us to live healthier. For esports, however, studies in either category are virtually non-existent.
One of the people who seeks to change this is Guido Bruinsma, head of the Esportslab at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. With data-driven research, he works together with various esports organizations to determine how esports can be taken to the next level, and how we can apply this knowledge for other applications. Understanding the optimal sitting posture for gaming performance may not just lead to better results (and health) for the esports organization, but it may have interesting applications for people working at home as well.
In the other category, we can look at the positives and negatives of playing videogames. Although we all know the potential hazards behind it, currently most people are less aware of the many positives of gaming. To give an interesting example: currently, Esports Team Twente, one of the official UT student teams, is working with the Royal Dutch Navy to investigate how videogames could be applied for an effective training of social skills for our marines. The better our understanding of gaming and potential applications of it, the more we are able to shape the future with novel tools like Serious Gaming.
Perhaps for esports, we can consider a third category: gaming as a case for studies in other fields. Many videogames are nicely isolated and able to be identically repeatable, perfect for behavioural studies on teamwork or individual performance under stress. Why invest a lot of money and effort in elaborate setups for studies when gaming offers an efficient alternative which – thanks to its digital nature – also provides data to analyse anything we would want to.
Esports and gaming are here to stay and will likely continue to become a more and more important part of our lives in the coming years. Whether it remains to be seen if esports-related research will be growing as quickly as the industry, it is near certain that the (mostly) unexplored potential behind esports will lead to many interesting studies and innovative perspectives on how we can approach the future. In many ways, we are at a tipping point, where even those who resist change and innovation are slowly accepting esports and taking the opportunities it provides more seriously. Truth be told, anyone still underestimating the potential of esports today will be lagging behind tomorrow.