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.