What is it?

Sometimes referred to as Electronic Sports of Competitive Gaming, eSports are organized video game competitions. Teams of players, sometimes co-located, sometimes geographically dispersed, play against other teams in synchronous, best of X matches. Similar to competitive sports, eSports teams can hone their skills and establish their reputations in various leagues against other teams (including leagues of collegiate teams of which Penn State is a part) before competing in local, national and international competitions for rewards ranging from bragging rights to multi-million dollar prize purses. The games played often come from specific video game genres, such as multiplayer online battle arenas (MOBAs), first person shooters (FPS), real time strategy games (RTS) and fighting games. For our purposes, we are going to focus on the MOBA genre, specifically on two games: League of Legends (LoL) and Defense of the Ancients 2 (DOTA 2).

Who is involved?

Similar to other sports, eSports involves professional gamers, playing in various leagues and tournaments that have associated cash prizes for the best teams. Many of the teams have various sponsors, that fund hardware, software, and travel to tournaments, as well as provide salaries for the players. A sampling of teams includes:

Navi – A popular eSports organization originating from Europe, Navi teams have won championships in DOTA2, as well as other eSports games.

Fnatic – A eSports organization that is popular among a variety of games, and sends players to 75 international events per year.

These organizations will send teams of players to specific tournaments to compete. The two big tournaments related to LoL and DOTA2 are:

The League of Legends World Championship – Riot Games, the developer behind League of Legends, hosts an annual tournament to determine the best League of Legends team in the world. Teams compete throughout the year in order to qualify for the tournament. In 2014, a team from China, named Fnatic, took first place and a prize of $1,000,000. In terms of viewership, 27 million people watched the finals of the tournament, with a peak of 11 million concurrent viewers (1).

The International – Valve software, the developer behind DOTA2, hosts the International each year, to determine the best DOTA 2 team in the world. Valve invites several top teams, and also hosts a qualifying tournament for several regions. In 2014, the winning team, Newbee, walked away with over $5,000,000.

Why do we care?

We see several interesting aspects of eSports. First and foremost, we have two areas of the university already engaging with eSports. The Penn State eSports club has over 100 members, and actively participates in various tournaments and leagues, including the Collegiate Starleague. As a co-curricular activity, we are interested to explore what our students are learning through their experiences with eSports. Second, the Curley Center for Sports Journalism is interested in providing opportunities for their students to get experience broadcasting eSports. “205 MILLION PEOPLE A YEAR are watching eSports online, and 40,000 people filled an arena to watch an event.”, says John Affleck, the Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society and the Director of the Curley Center in the College of Communications. “If the idea of fans watching teams of players compete at video games sounds unbelievable to you, well, get used to the idea. ESPN broadcast eSports last summer as part of the X Games. And you know what? These other tournaments are going to need broadcasters to do play-by-play and analysis.”

In addition to the direct applicability of eSports to curricular and co-curricular activities, we are very interested in the technology stack that enables eSports. Game developers are integrating what are referred to as ‘spectator tools’, allowing fans to watch and interact with games as a viewer in unique and interesting ways

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Also, the way in which the games are being ‘broadcast’ is often through a 3rd party platform, such as Twitch.tv. This, and similar technologies, allow individuals to synchronously share their video game experiences, often adding narration and custom overlays on top of the game environments. We find the spectator tools in these games, as well as the broadcasting platforms, potentially applicable to future directions in online and blended learning.

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