by: Ian Silver
UCI hosted its second annual Esports Conference that took place on Oct. 10 and 11. The event was a celebration of the players and administrators who have focused their efforts on sharing what makes their community unique and special.
Esports is similar in structure to traditional sports, with the main discrepancy being the use of electronics, hence where the ‘E’ in ‘Esports’ finds its origin. Esports involves individual professional players and teams that compete in competitions. At this particular conference, there were speakers from around the world as well as from a League of Legends invitational.
In addition to the games that were played at the conference, there were also multiple informative presentations. Lecturer in Games Studies at Staffordshire University Dr. Ying-Ying Law hosted a presentation on the importance of grassroots play and participation at esports events as well as the role that they play in forming gaming communities.
She began by presenting some findings from her research on how to build a successful gaming community beginning with participation at grassroots events and highlighting what draws people to these gatherings.
According to Law, some people are generally unsatisfied with the lack of togetherness of their community, so they seek out ways to come together in a more unified form. Tournaments are the manifestation of this form, and Law attended tournaments in the U.K. to research how these communities come together and grow.
“The objective of research at tournaments was to observe [the players’] practices and manner in tournament and interactions with others,” Law said.
As a part of Law’s research, she found one factor that was crucial in the formation of a tight-knit community: time.
“If you give players more time at tournaments, they interact with each other more,” Law said.
She then explained how giving players opportunities to play more matches in tournaments helps them bond with other competitors, obtain more value from the experience and find a place within the community.
In regards to how she’d like to see esports communities continue to grow, Law explained that it all boils down to the community’s foundation.
“To keep going, we need community support. If you build a better structure in the foundation of the community, you’ll see more substantial growth,” she said.
Executive Director of Esports at Intersport and Robert Morris University Kurt Melcher shared this philosophy during his presentation on Oct. 10. He believes that a strong foundation in collegiate esports communities comes from the joint efforts of students and administrators.
Melcher’s research has found that administrators with an understanding of esports saw value for their institutions and students through participation. They felt it could improve faculty relations with students as well as build students’ collaborative skills. Once students and faculty united, they worked together to foster communities on campus.
In 2014, there was just one formal esports program for colleges in the U.S. Now in 2019, there are 270 formal programs across the United States, thanks to the joint efforts of administrators, students and game developers. It is a staggering increase, and Melcher offered a simple explanation as to why this has happened.“It never occurred to school officials that esports or video games could be a beneficial thing for their institution,” Melcher said.
Melcher also asked attendees of the presentation to remember why they were gathered at the conference and why esports communities exist. There are still paths to be forged, and students should be encouraged to keep playing their games and growing their communities. He also added that we should protect positive narratives about the esports community.
“It exists because it’s fun and these things can play different levels of importance… Universities and students must figure out the right path together,” Melcher said.