What is eSports and why do people watch it?
eSports is as a form of sports where the primary aspects of the sport are facilitated by electronic systems; the input of players and teams as well as the output of the eSports system are mediated by human-computer interfaces. In more practical terms, eSports commonly refer to competitive (pro and amateur) video gaming that is often coordinated by different leagues, ladders and tournaments, and where players customarily belong to teams or other ‘sporting’ organizations who are sponsored by various business organizations.
During recent years, eSports (electronic sports) have become one of the most rapidly growing forms of new media driven by the growing provenance of (online) games and online broadcasting technologies. It has been estimated that more than 70 million people watched eSports during 2013 (Warr, 2014).Like other media, media content consumption and information technology adoption research, the research on sports consumption and spectatorship is commonly interested in the motivations of why people consume it, how they consume it, as well as what kinds of needs the given form of media/technology might gratify. Thus far, sports consumption research has been mostly conducted in the area of sports management.
However, with the rise of eSports, sports are increasingly becoming a computer-mediated form of media and information technology which may entail novel ways of information technology use. This is especially so because eSports media content is conveyed through computerized broadcasting (such as internet streaming), and because the sporting activity itself is computer-mediated. This makes eSports an increasingly interesting subject of study for the area of information technology in general.In this paper we seek to progress both the conceptual understanding of eSports by discussing what eSports is, as well as the understanding of the motivations of eSports consumers by empirically investigating which sports consumption motivations predict how much time people are likely to spend on watching eSports.
We employ data from on an online survey that was conducted amongst people who have watched eSports online (n=888).
eSports have only recently enjoyed wide international adoption, and there is still resistance as to whether eSports can truly be considered as a sport. This conceptual conundrum is a pertinent issue for not only defining eSports, but also for drawing the boundaries of what we understand as being sports in general. It appears that many (especially the fans of ‘traditional’ sports) are of the opinion that eSports can’t be called a sport, simply because the player competence is not measured via either their physical prowess or finesse as the eSports athletes appear to be simply sitting riveted to their chairs. In reality, the body and physical activities of the player are still an important part of the overall sporting activity (e.
g. Witkowski, 2012).Although the outcome-defining events of the sport occur within the confines of an electronic, computer-mediated environment, it does not in any way imply that eSports cannot be physically taxing for the players (see also Taylor and Witkowski, 2010; Witkowski, 2009; Witkowski, 2012). How taxing eSports is physically depends on the modus of human-computer interaction that is required to control the game states of the game’s software or system.
In dancing (video)games for example, players are physically drained from interacting with the computer. eSports are commonly organized around specific genres of games, such as Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (e.g. League of Legends, Dota 2), First-Person Shooters (e.
g. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive), Real Time Strategy (e.g. Starcraft 2), Collectible Card Games (e.
g. Hearthstone) or Sports games (e.g. FIFA-series), therefore they form many sub-cultures within eSports, in the same way that ‘traditional’ sports do.
However, eSports are not commonly perceived as ‘electronic’ versions of ‘traditional’ sports such as soccer, basketball, or track and field sports even though such simulations of ‘traditional’ sports are also played as eSports (such as the FIFA and NHL games).While some conceptual and qualitative literature on eSports has emerged, only a few definitions have been proposed regarding eSports. Perhaps the oldest and most explicit definition by Wagner (2006) leans heavily on a definition of traditional sports originally provided by Tiedemann (2004), as: “an area of sport activities in which people develop and train mental or physical abilities …”. In defining eSports, Wagner (2006) extends this general definition of sports with the addition of “in the use of information and communication technologies”.
However, we believe that this definition might leave too much room for interpretation and does not therefore solve the looming question of what sporting activities can be defined to be either an electronic sport or ‘traditional’ sport. This is mainly because when considering any current sport, many aspects of it are computer-assisted or computer-mediated (see e.g. Witkowski, 2012).
The definition by Wagner (2006) also poses another problem since it refers to such a large set of activities that even office-based software training could be included as a sport. We also subscribe to the criticism presented by Witkowski (2012) that the definition might define electronic systems too narrowly in covering only “information and communication technologies”, and that the definition might divert attention from the complex mixture of both physical and electronic aspects in eSports.We believe that in a quest to define eSports we should focus more deeply on what constitutes the “e” in eSports (for more cultural descriptions of eSports please see: Taylor, 2012; Taylor & Witkowski, 2010; Witkowski, 2009; Witkowski, 2012). The crucial question is then what portions or aspects of the sport has to be electronic and / or computer-mediated for a sporting activity to be counted as an eSport.
We argue that the main difference between a sport and an eSport comes down to where the player or team activities that determine the outcomes of the sport/play are manifested. In traditional sports, all outcome-defining activities can be seen to happen in ‘the real world’, even though the sport’s practitioners may employ electronic and computerized systems to aid the sporting activities.However we observe and argue that in eSports, the outcome-defining activities happen in a ‘virtual world’i, or in other words within electronic/digital/computer-mediated environments. The outcome-defining activities are coordinated, orchestrated and operated by human beings in the ‘real world’, however it is not the physical and practical circumstance that the player inhabits that ultimately defines the outcome of play, but rather the system states that exist within the confines of the electronic system (which is controlled by the player and governed by the rules of the eSport’s software and technology).
Given that the playing humans occupy the ‘physical world’, but the outcome-defining events of eSports happen in the ‘virtual world’, then eSport athletes are always required to use or otherwise interact with a human-computer interface that connects their bodies to the electronic system (See Table 1).Based on these notions, we define eSports as a form of sports where the primary aspects of the sport are facilitated by electronic systems; the input of players and teams as well as the output of the eSports system are mediated by human-computer interfaces.Spectating on eSports can be superficially seen as a similar activity to spectating on any sports. Most commonly, eSports are being consumed by watching live streams on the internet, where in addition to watching the event, spectators can participate in surrounding social interaction, for example in the form of chat features.
As eSports are computer-mediated, spectating can never be without computer-mediated aspects as spectators watching an eSport event ‘live’ have to eventually watch events from a computer-output such as a video screen or a monitor.As previously mentioned, literature on eSports is still rare and dispersed, and most of this body of literature has focused on the qualitative documentation of visible phenomenon in tournaments (e.g. Carter and Gibbs, 2013; Cheung and Huang, 2011; Hutchins, 2008; Seo and Jung, 2014; Seo, 2015; Taylor, 2012a; Taylor, 2012b; Wagner, 2006; Witkowski, 2009; Witkowski, 2012).
Published quantitative research on the questions of why people watch eSports or why players wish to attend eSports events is, as of yet, non-existent. Thus far, only one study has been published on the reasons for watching eSports (Weiss and Schiele, 2013), and it finds that competition, challenge and escapism were positively associated with eSports use. However, the study measured the general motivational aspects related to playing video games, and thus it makes it extremely difficult to compare the results to other works on media viewing.Other qualitative literature suggests that the reasons for eSports consumption should in principle correspond to those of traditional sports.
For example, based on an interview study, Cheung and Huang (2011) remarked that eSports consumption motivations fairly well correspond to those of traditional sports (using the MSSC scale of Trail & James, 2001). However, given that their study was qualitative in approach, there was no way to infer how salient the different motivations were, or how associated they might be with frequency in eSports consumption. Therefore, in order to continue the research on eSports consumption motivations, we have specifically employed the MSSC measurement instrument in measuring the motivations of eSports spectators, and also which of these motivations can be used to predict eSports watching frequency.