How to do eSports…? (No seriously. I’m asking.)

As I mentioned in another post on my (non-research) sabbatical projects we really have no idea how the esports program will actually function as of now (although we’re starting one anyway – it would seem there may be too much possibility of falling behind not to try to stumble our way through the startup). So here are just a few of the things I’m thinking about as I begin to try to organize my own thinking about how best to get this off the ground.

  • Practices. Since its a competitive team, of course there must be practices. But will these be primarily face-to-face, synchronous but at a distance (i.e., in dorm rooms and offices but streaming live), or asynchronously as individuals/small groups/teams?
  • Matches. Matches themselves will mostly be run using the second method, either in self-organized “scrimmages” or through one of the esports conferences sprouting up (NACE and TESPA are the two big ones right now), but there’s certainly room both on campus and regionally in North Texas where we’re located for the first model as well. How much should we be committing our time to matches versus practice? My wrestling coach in high school was all about “practice as you compete”: our practices usually ended with full matches, both for conditioning but also for skill development. Is that something that will work best for esports? Could it be game-dependent?
  • Organization. Some aspects of esports today strike me as akin to Chess in the way they pit individuals against one another in largely-strategic matchups. Others are more like what I imagine Track and Field is like: each game is a distinct event in which some team participants will compete; some very strong competitors may end up competing in more than one event/game, but most will specialize in one. What mental models will be most useful for us in terms of organizing ourselves?
  • Support. Who else in our community may be out there interested in helping to make this program a success?
    • As a college team (as opposed to a professional one), there surely must be some aspects of the program that connect to things our students are actually learning at our college (as opposed to just being a training ground for future professional work/play). So my faculty colleagues can hopefully help me think through some of those issues as well. Will they be interested in taking time away from their busy schedules to help me engage these questions?
    • There are admissions, advancement, and student affairs staff who need to be at least in the loop if not actively helping to steer the program, and of course IT looms quite large in all of this as well. So far, I’ve had really productive conversations with folks from all of these areas of campus, but of course they have their own full-time jobs to deal with as well (and no sabbatical within which to experiment with time allocations). Will it be easier or harder for them to take time to support esports than faculty colleagues?
    • What about alums? Do they have a role to play in this endeavor, and if so, what might that be?
    • And of course, students: they will be the team in a real sense (especially those who play games I have little or no experience with). But also, there is the much larger segment of the student body who play games regularly but for various reasons won’t be on the team. How can we engage them in ways that are productive and fun?
  • Budget. What is reasonable to expect going forward in terms of dollars into the program for the gains we’re hoping to draw from it? To my mind, it is unreasonable to expect college employees – faculty or staff – to provide more than an hour or two a week to the program without additional compensation.  So far, the only person that it looks like this “rule” would directly affect is me, but I’m very aware of how committing the time needed to the success of a program like this would create much more problematic conflicts with the work I’ve actually been hired to do for the college. And of course there is the very real fact that esports has a pretty heavy upfront cost (unless we choose a bring-your-own-device model, not something we’ve decided to do with our program). What is the best ratio of gaming stations to team participants? What specs are the most important to focus on if you’re on a budget (and who isn’t)?

Tentative answers to these questions will certainly help us get off the ground in the coming weeks, but we will need to continue thinking about them as we move forward. That is where you come in: what are your thoughts on the roles esports can play at a contemporary small liberal arts college and how we can best support such a program?

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Sabbatical! Go!

As the semester starts to spin up, I keep finding myself having oddly bifurcated thoughts: on the one hand, I’m on sabbatical this fall, so when I see emails and other missives about the semester gearing up, first I have a bit of an internal groan, but then quickly remember “not me…” and feel the shoulder muscles relax a bit.

That said, my intentions for work this semester are themselves bifurcated: I want to be working on some kind of publishable work (more on that in an upcoming post), but I’ve also committed to several pieces of service work that will keep me on campus and fairly engaged with the campus community.  Fundamentally, there are four:

First, I’m continuing my role as chair of the Communication, Media, and Theatre department.  Not a large amount of work hours, but things tend to crop up, and when they do, they’re often at the level of “mini-crisis”: they need to be addressed fairly immediately, and may require more than one interaction/meeting to resolve.

Second, I’m also continuing my role as faculty Moderator. While technically I’m sure it would have been easy to find someone to substitute this semester, I wanted to keep the momentum going because a) last year was my first year and it’s only a three-year post, b) as the first to serve in this role, I’d like to have a greater hand in shaping expectations for the future, and c) I enjoy doing it. This time commitment is typically a few hours in the days immediately prior to our monthly meetings plus the meetings themselves. Again, not significant, but something to keep me on campus with at least some regularity.

Third, post-Mellon grant, the discussion about digital pedagogy and learning continues on our campus, and still needs someone to shepherd it toward something more sustainable. This is the one of the four that is most contingent on my own willpower: there is likely no one on campus right now who would push me to keep going if I just let it fade away. But to me, that is the strongest reason for finding ways to sustain it: digital learning is important, but also easy to let go in the face of so many other things happening in higher ed. Our community needs someone to keep working to move it forward from the back burners. (One positive note on this: our president gave an opening address earlier this week, and mentioned that he is making an administrative change – moving our head of IT onto our Senior Leadership Team – because “technology sits at the crossroads of everything we do in today’s world.” Hopefully this is a good sign that the new administration is aware of the importance of these issues too.) Time commitment for this is a bit amorphous, but again, is unlikely to become something that completely takes over my days: there just isn’t enough groundswell happening right now. Perhaps in the future….

Finally, I’ve agreed to direct our fledgling esports program, at least in the short term. This one is the one I’m most concerned about.  I’m excited to see the college taking an interest in digital games beyond the couple of courses we occasionally offer (two of them mine) that cover the topic. It is also clearly the case that esports have arrived in a serious way: professional and amateur tournaments are cropping up all over (and much of the talk about this kind of thing is that the U.S. is “behind” other countries), media outlets are trying things like dedicated television channels and other companies are seeking startup ventures that are also game-related, viability for platforms like Twitch is arguably inextricably linked to the success of professional gamers streaming daily, and most directly relevant to me, there are already dozens of schools in higher ed with esports programs as we begin the 2018-19 school year.  Plus, such programs are perceived among administrators as admissions producers.

All of that said, we’ve spun it up so quickly (in a matter of months, mostly over the summer), that we really have no idea how the program will actually function. (For more of my thoughts on that topic specifically, see this post.) So I’m really not sure what kind of time commitment this will require for me, but I can’t imagine how it won’t at least require regular weekly practices and matches, as well as regular logistics, promotion, and recruiting duties of some sort.

When I write all out like this, it certainly raises some serious questions for me about how much else I’ll be able to get done this semester….Sheesh.

…and the livin’ is…

Another summer is upon us, and once again I’m offering my Elements of Media Making course.  We always struggle with how to manage summer enrollment here: we can’t seem to figure out the secret sauce that will balance student and faculty interest with the financials of it all.  But I do have some students interested, so we’re sallying forth!

One feature of the course is a focus on networked writing – thinking about how to write for a networked audience – so you may see an uptick in my postings here over the next couple of months. Maybe I’ll see you around. 🙂

Engage

tenor

Now starting my 14th year teaching media studies and production at Austin College. 🙂

If you’re looking for links to course materials for the courses I’m teaching this fall – a freshman seminar on dystopian media, digital video production, and screenwriting, you can find links to those over on the Fall 2017 Courses page.

If you’re wondering what the status of the digital pedagogy initiative at Austin College is, you can find all kinds of resources over at the AC Digital Pedagogy companion site: check those out while we deliberate a bit about which directions to take the initiative in next.

Or if you need to contact me, drop me a line by email (find it on the AC directory), Twitter (@bboessen), or in the comments below. 🙂

EMM: #vizlit and False Advertising

Preparing for today’s class in my Elements of Media Making summer course, I’m reminded of one very useful skill those trained in visual literacy can employ daily: spotting misleading and/or false advertising.

Here’s a nice roll-up of some hilarious and sad attempts to mislead us. I especially like Especially sad is the kiddie pool:

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 11.09.56 AM

Wow.

Keep your eyes peeled for such chicanery.