Esports Takes To The Gym!


by | Feb 25, 2019, 11:00AM PDT

It wasn’t too long ago that the gamer stereotype was someone who disliked physical activity and spent most of their time as a recluse in their local basement (in fact, this assumption is still prevalent, even today). While this was a common insult before, it hardly applies in today’s gaming scene – especially in esports. Newcomers to competitive gaming may be surprised to find that the physical state of these players betray their expectations! The modern professional esports scene is filled with anything but these stereotypes, as players and their teams now take their physical fitness more seriously than ever.

Recently, big-name esports team organizations (e.g. Team SoloMid, Dallas Fuel, Cloud9, Los Angeles Gladiators, Fnatic…) are regarding their players’ physical health as a critical component of their play. Much as one would expect a professional, ‘real’ sports team to, these organizations highly encourage their players to work out and focus on their nutrition – for some, it is even mandatory as part of their training as a player. Often, the managers for these teams will even hire personal trainers and cooks to cater towards daily exercise and a healthier diet.

UCI Esports scholarship teams are no exception to the belief that physical health is a key part of player success, both in and out of the game. In fact, the scholarship players have a personal trainer available to them, Haylesh Patel. Patel works for both the League of Legends and Overwatch teams as their Exercise Physiologist – crafting health and wellness programs that are tailor-made experiences for each individual player. These programs take into consideration a player’s goals, whether it be in the physical or mental realm.

A lack of physical activity on stage makes a clear divide between pro esports players and athletes. However, fitness and health remain key to consistent performance and optimal gameplay. Good health is vital to competitive games of all types – whether it’s a MOBA, FPS, or FG. These games are fueled by split-second reflexes and a deep knowledge of game strategy. A player’s mind is the key to their success and one of the best ways to amp concentration is to embrace a healthy lifestyle.

A number of pro players have gone through drastic physical transformations after being recruited under these teams – losing weight and gaining muscle mass. It is remarkable how much positive attention some esports teams have gotten in terms of keeping their players fit, whether it be for aesthetic appreciation or the sheer dedication the players put into their exercise. A fine example of such would be Gilbert “Xplosive” Rojo from OpTic Gaming. In 2017, he posted two photos of himself – one at the beginning of the year and one at the end. The dramatic loss of weight garnered much attention, with many fans expressing how inspiring his fitness journey was.

Xplosive is one of many pro players with a weight loss transformation to behold. Recently, pro players have become active on social media – promoting fitness with videos at the gym, progress photos, and updates on their personal fitness goals. Many fans of these players often feel inspired by the dedication to the gym life and strive to create and work towards their own goals.

It’s amazing to see how the esports scene has revolutionized itself over the years, changing the stigma and bringing light to fitness and health in a young, but rapidly growing industry. In future articles, I will provide readers with an in-depth look at the UCI Esports fitness program, featuring interviews with Haylesh Patel himself, as well as an inside scoop on the program’s function from players Brenden “tildae” Alvarez (not pictured) and Lyubomir “BloodWater” Spasov (pictured above in the featured image to the very right)!

Esports Lab Spotlight: Craig G. Anderson


by | May 1, 2019, 11:00AM PDT

This is part 2 of a mini-series on the UCI Esports Lab and their research topics.

This article features Craig G. Anderson, a doctoral candidate at the Esports Lab. His research topics focus on the cognitive influences of games, including the roles of failure and persistence in gaming. More information, including contact information, can be found at https://www.uciesportslab.org/.

What led you to become involved in esports research? What is your educational background?

I’ve been working with Profs. Constance Steinkuehler and Kurt Squire for about five years;  we started in Madison, Wisconsin where we were initially researching educational games. It wasn’t until we moved to Irvine when our research started to change gears toward esports. I still study single player commercial games, but I can now start looking at the area of multiplayer competitive environments as well.

What questions are you looking to answer through your research?

My masters work was on “what makes video games engaging.” To that end, I made a low-fidelity version of Peggle and had people play it to find out if they still enjoyed playing and if they learned the core skills about the game (they only played half as much, and reported less engagement). There’s something about having success just out of reach that keeps players coming.  I then started to think about how failure is so common in games, and how games construct failure as something expected. I’m interested in looking at games like Dark Souls and Cuphead, notoriously difficult games that have a huge fanbase. Do playing these types change the way we think about failure, both in and outside of the game as well?

Today, my research focuses on how players react to failure in games. I come from a psychology background, so I’m interested in how video games make people think, and especially how they frame failure in comparison to other environments. One reason why esports is so interesting is because there are teammates that are relying on you to succeed with them as well — any failure can affect the whole team. Another interesting aspect as well is the spectators; do players react to failure differently when people are watching? If so, how?  

I am currently looking to watch testers play Cuphead and try to map the places where players are most likely to fail. I’m particularly interested in seeing if they persist, and also the reorientation strategies they use. What’s difficult about this is that the methodology hasn’t been done before. Researchers usually just survey their testers about their experiences, but I plan to actually observe the testers play the game. How long do players persist through failure? How many times do they fail, and how do they react to those failures? How many times do they try before they give up?

Who do you work with on a regular basis at the lab?

The lab was designed on purpose to encourage open, constant collaboration. Everyone talks across the table and gets the chance to collaborate with others on topics they find interesting. There are all kinds of people that work in the lab, from professors to graduate students, and even undergraduate and high school interns.

Outside the lab, our biggest project is NASEF, the high school esports league that also facilitates academic research. We work with the high school players to get gameplay footage that we might be able to refer to in our research, such as League of Legends mid lane players.

What is one of the most important things you’ve done in your time researching esports?

I am the co-chair for UCI’s Esports Conference (ESC). It was a huge amount of work, especially since ESC 2018 was the first-ever instance of it. The team spent a whole year planning the whole event, but it paid off! I’m happy that many people enjoyed it and want to go again next year, so even now we’re working on ESC 2019.

Where do you see esports (and/or research in the area) in five years?

As esports becomes more mainstream, I see it growing in popularity until it is on par with regular, traditional sports. Similarly, esports research will continue to grow, especially at UCI where the Informatics department and games studies is growing. I want to see UCI become the premier game studies university. Before Profs. Steinkuehler and Squire came, there were only three or four professors in the department studying anything games-related. Now that there are a lot of big names doing research here, the school is now attracting more and more games scholars.