Esports Lab Spotlight: Maria J. Anderson-Coto


by | Feb 28, 2019, 6:00AM PDT

This is part 1 of a mini-series on the UCI Esports Lab and their research topics.

Despite the field’s rapid growth in the past few years, academic research on the subject of esports is rare. The UCI Esports Lab’s aim, according to their website, is to “understand and enrich esports” through their student research. The faculty and graduate students there focus their study on methods to optimize esports teams, and they apply their findings to educational spaces like the North America Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF). Such research often involves how players function in teams, particularly when they need to communicate and work together.

This article focuses on Maria J. Anderson-Coto, a first-year doctorate student at the Esports Lab. Her research topics include player performance, retirement in esports, and gender inclusion. More information, including contacts, can be found at https://www.uciesportslab.org/


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

I came into graduate school with a background in business,. My first exposure to esports was in the form of watching the advent of the Overwatch League and reading about gamification. I quickly realized that the business teams I worked with had problems that could be solved with games, and were very similar to esports teams. Today, I play games to study them and as a social activity, so I always try to make the time I spend playing games meaningful in some way.

What questions are you looking to answer through your research?

One of my research topics is team dynamics. How do esports teams work? How do players with different abilities, roles, and languages work together so well? How do the internal and external factors, such as physical activity, social relationships and mental health influence their teamwork? I try to see these players as high-performing athletes, playing a sport that demands precise communications and interactions in a stressful environment, requiring not only the body, but the brain.

One of my current projects is on player retirement. I am trying to figure out why players are retiring early on, since the body doesn’t give out in the same way that physical athletes do. Most esports players retire at around 25 years old – why? I’m also looking into a retrospective on their professional life – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Learning why a player retires can give me further insight into how the team works as well.

In the future, I plan to research gender inclusion in esports. There’s already many papers and articles about the need for more diversity. Why aren’t they here, though? What factors are preventing true diversity from happening? Why aren’t they doing it, and how can we make it more accessible?

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

I work with my advisor, Dr. Kurt Squire, Dr. Constance Steinkuehler, and other graduate students in the Esports Lab as well as the Participatory Learning Lab. I also collaborate with Mark Deppe at the Esports Arena, who is very supportive of our research.

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

I was on the board for planning UCI ESC 2018 and because of my business background, I was in charge of acquiring marketing materials like signage, t-shirts, bags and booklets. It was particularly difficult because this was the first-ever academic esports event, so there was no existing precedent for it. Getting everything together was extremely stressful, but it was gratifying getting to work with the team outside of research.

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

Esports doesn’t have a rigid, centralized structure like traditional sports, but I expect to see the field grow just like it’s currently doing now in the next five years. One particular thing I am curious to see is some sort of regulatory body emerging – or any type of regulation being created, as well as a higher standard of esports professionalism.

Triumphs and Trials: Our Competitive Year in Review


by | May 7, 2021, 7:00AM PDT

College League of Legends

The UCI Esports League of Legends team ended their 2021 collegiate season early with a 4-2 record in the regular season, unable to qualify for the Western Conference Playoffs.

This year’s Western Conference consisted of 49 collegiate teams, with the top two teams qualifying for the national championship.

UCI Esports fell to 5th seed Cal State Fullerton during week 3 of the six-week regular season and to 1st seed University of British Columbia during week 6. This marks UCI Esports’ first time not qualifying for the Western Conference playoffs since 2016.

The League of Legends roster underwent a significant overhaul this year, bidding farewell to graduating players Avi Behar and Jeffrey Du and welcoming four new rookies.

“We’re going through a building year right now,” stated David “Hermes” Tu, head coach of League of Legends. “There are big shoes left to fill considering the legacy we have here at UCI. But I’m confident that with our rookies gaining more experience, we can reclaim the throne as leaders in the Western Conference.”

UCI’s League of Legends team will continue to develop its new talent for the remainder of the 2021 academic year. After the season, they recently competed in the Upsurge Premier League against rival collegiate teams Maryville University and the University of Texas, Dallas.

Overwatch Collegiate Championship

On April 10th and 11th of this year, the UCI Esports Overwatch team ended their 2021 competitive season, finishing strong in the top 4, making it to the semifinals.

The Overwatch Collegiate Championship is Activision Blizzard’s official tournament circuit designed and purposed for college teams to compete against each other through a multi-layered tournament spanning the academic year.

In 2021, the tournament had a whopping 304 teams, 2500+ players, and 227 unique schools across the United States and Canada duking it out for their slice of the $48,000 scholarship prize and recognition as the best in North America.

Our team practiced, studied, and competed fiercely from start to end, leaving national swiss with an impressive score of 9-1 and seeding 6th nationally.

During the playoffs, UCI Esports bested 27th seed GMU, 11th seed Boise State, and 3rd seed Bellevue University on their way to the top, meeting 2nd seed Maryville University in the semifinals. Maryville would proceed to play in the finals against Northwood University and win, cementing themselves as the champions of this year.

Concerning the team, their performance, and the season as a whole, this is what UCI Esports’ coaches had to say.

I am so privileged to have been able to work alongside such hardworking and tenacious student-athletes. Our players this year truly gave it their best, their hearts were truly in the game and with each other, and that’s all we ask for. With a sample of victory, our team was so close to the precipice, and they’re hungry to give it another go next year with renewed confidence and the solid foundation we’ve built this year.

Ronald “Renanthera” Ly

I’m incredibly proud of our players for the resilience they’ve shown throughout the season. Like any other team this year, life has thrown a lot at us, and we’ve persevered to be able to deal with it and still push towards being a top collegiate team. I’m thankful for all of their hard work and especially the environment they all help to create. I look forward to every practice and match knowing we’re all in it together and propping each other up to succeed as a team.

Michael “The” Kuhns

UCI Esports closed out the season as the #1 school on the West Coast and 3rd-4th across all of North America.

Final Words

Regarding the program’s competitive year as a whole, we asked our director for a few words.

I am very proud of the program and our work during this very strange year. All of our coaches have worked tirelessly this year to cultivate a community and a culture focused on caring for one another, playing for their teams, and making those connections palpable despite the global pandemic. Our League of Legends team has gone through a tough rebuilding year, and we’ve crafted a strong foundation for the next. Our Overwatch team ended the best in the west, but I know our players and staff aren’t going to be satisfied with just that either. We’re already planning and plotting for what comes next, and it’s beautiful to see the teams already hard at work preparing for success next year.

Mark Deppe