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?

2 thoughts on “How to do eSports…? (No seriously. I’m asking.)

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  1. I don’t really have any idea about how to do an eSports program either, but it does seem to be a thing now, as this article from today’s Chronicle points out (https://www.chronicle.com/article/U-of-Akron-Will-Phase-Out-80/244293).

    I’m curious as to where the impetus for the program is coming from. Is this something that students are asking for? Will it have any kind of academic or curricular tie-in (e.g., to your courses in game design), or will be take its place alongside other student orgs and intramural activities? How many students are you guessing that you will have?

    As for the role of eSports at a small liberal arts college…I really don’t know. We do have a student VR club at Grinnell, so there might be something of a gaming culture with that, but I don’t know. We don’t have a game design program (or even media studies, for that matter!) Maybe gaming fluency could be another element of digital literacies and competencies??

    I am intrigued by the role of Twitch in generating interest around various forms of gaming. As it happens, in the last month or so, a few of the top crossword puzzle solvers in the country (like the guy who crushed the field in the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament this year) have been live streaming their solves of the most challenging puzzles each week…and often handicapping themselves by using only the down clues (https://www.twitch.tv/videos/296602193). They are obviously in a league way beyond the rest of us 🙂

    Good luck with it…looking forward to seeing how things develop…

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