Simone Kriglstein, Anna Martin-Niedecken, Josef Spjut, Nicole Damen, Selen Türkay, Anders Drachen
Esports are video games played competitively for fun and profit at both amateur and professional levels. Esports have matured into an independent sports sector similar to traditional sports [1,2], including support for international events and governing bodies. The esports industry has become a growing mainstream phenomenon, with young audiences representing the sports audiences of the future . With the increased awareness of esports among gaming communities and its potential to engage and entertain sports fans, esports has entered the zeitgeist. The Covid-19 pandemic caused significant disruptions to people's leisure activities and to the sporting industry, which had to cancel or postpone many events. Platforms such as Twitch and YouTube allow esports fans to be esports event spectators in a manner that can be highly interactive, with livestreaming data . Such events are viewed by tens of millions of people, with some events offering prize money exceeding that of major traditional sporting events.
Over the past couple of years, interdisciplinary research networks such as the Arena Research Cluster (ARC; https://arc.york.ac.uk/), the Esports Research Network (ERN; https://esportsresearch.net/), and the Swiss eSports Health and Performance Network (eSHAPE Network)  have been established, bringing together cross-disciplinary research communities. One unexplored research perspective on esports is the field of human-computer interaction (HCI). HCI forms a natural nucleus for esports research, which lies at the intersection of different HCI-related topics such as user research, game design for performance and entertainment, design and support of social or interpersonal interaction, inclusion and toxicity in online communities, data visualization, data-driven storytelling, and subdomains like physical esports. Esports also has connections with education, digital literacy, and health contexts.
This article highlights the key findings from the recent esports-focused workshops on spectatorship and high-performance gaming, and a special interest group (SIG) held at the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI), paving the way for future studies and use cases in HCI.
Special Interest Group: The Present and Future of Esports in HCI
To open up the promising field of HCI in esports and bring together researchers and industry professionals from different disciplines, an interdisciplinary consortium including Simone Kriglstein, Anna Lisa Martin-Niedecken, Laia Turmo Vidal, Madison Klarkowski, Katja Rogers, Selen Turkay, Magy Seif El-Nasr, Elena Márquez Segura, Anders Drachen, and Perttu Hämäläinen organized and established a special interest group at CHI 2021 .
With the aim of promoting interdisciplinary exchange, increasing awareness, sharing experiences, and establishing a community and collaborations at the intersection of HCI and esports, the SIG gathered approximately 30 international participants with different backgrounds (e.g., computer science, psychology, sport science, design) and education levels (i.e., juniors and seniors).
The rise of online streaming and esports has gone hand in hand with an increased interest in supporting and creating solutions for a positive spectatorship experience.
The SIG was held via Zoom. After a brief introduction, preproduced videos on selected topics were presented:
- Streamer and spectatorship experience
- Esports communities
- Inclusion in esports
- Physical esports
- Physical, cognitive, and mental health in esports
- Performance enhancement in esports
- Esports visualizations
- Modeling and strategy identification of esports behaviors
- Esports and education
- Team formation and interpersonal dynamics in esports
- Multimodal factors (i.e., sound effects, music, and haptics)
The videos served as a stimulus and inspiration for open exchange. In addition to Zoom, a shared Miro board was used as an interactive creative platform for collaborative brainstorming and capturing thoughts and ideas.
During the open session, some of the previously presented topics were discussed and debated in more depth. Regarding the topic of competitive physical sports versus esports, the following questions arose:
- What does esports/sportsmanship look like?
- What is the meaning of the body in traditional sports?
- Will esports go to the Olympics, and if so, how?
Concerning the topic of spectatorship, the following were addressed as promising future research avenues:
- The potential for cool, "real-sports-like" visualizations of esports performance: What do people want to see? Why are people watching sports and/or esports? Who is the audience (e.g., cultural aspects)?
- Opportunities in physical esports: What aspects could be of interest to be observed and/or shown to the audience in physical esports (face, hands, etc.)?
With regard to the topic of physical gaming, the following question was of interest: How could movement-based games be used as a motivator for working out (health) and to train specific tasks (performance)?
Further avenues for future HCI/esports research were identified:
- How could technology help make esports more accessible and inclusive compared with traditional sports?
- How can HCI/esports research consider gender disparities or age?
- How can HCI/esports research support people in esports careers?
Past Workshops, Related Activities, Events, and Communities
Previous esports-related events that occurred during the CHI conference were organized with a more specific focus, such as spectatorship experience and performance, and esports and high-performance HCI. In this section, we discuss these past workshops as well as other groups and activities related to the intersection of HCI and esports.
Be Part of It: Spectator Experience in Gaming and Esports. The rise of online streaming and esports has gone hand in hand with an increased interest in supporting and creating solutions for a positive spectatorship experience. The spectatorship experience can be influenced by a variety of factors such as, for example, whether the event is online or on-site, the event's atmosphere, and spectator support of the teams. These elements can in turn offer new design challenges for HCI to develop approaches that involve the crowd as engaged spectators rather than passive observers by, for example, increasing communication with one another about the current match, supporting participation through competitions or quizzes, and providing information about side events such as cosplay events. The CHI 2020 workshop Be Part of It: Spectator Experience in Gaming and Esports —organized by Simone Kriglstein, Günter Wallner, Sven Charleer, Kathrin Gerling, Pejman Mirza-Babaei, Steven Schirra, and Manfred Tscheligi—was a first step toward exploring what positive, active spectatorship might look like. The focus of the one-day workshop was to bring together researchers and industry professionals from different disciplines to promote interdisciplinary exchange, increase awareness, and establish a community and collaborations around how technology and HCI can help transform the act of watching games, particularly esports, from a passive experience to a more active and engaging one.
Thirteen papers in the following areas were presented and discussed during the workshop:
- Visualizations and dashboards that support spectatorship
- Social and community aspects in esports spaces and streaming
- Use cases that describe spectator experiences in practice
- User studies to understand spectators and streamers
- Design concepts to support and increase audience participation
The workshop highlighted the need for new design approaches that consider the different motivations and needs of streamers and spectators. For example, it is unclear which methods, technologies, or approaches can be applied to achieve an on-site atmosphere in a spectator's home, a question pushed to the forefront due to larger societal pressures such as the coronavirus pandemic. Other aspects open to exploration include the use of social motivations as incentives for spectator participation, and the roles played by communities of spectators and by interpersonal relationships between players/streamers and their viewers. There is a clear need, then, for exploring how these various relationships (e.g., between player and spectator or between spectators) can be expanded to become an active part of the event itself depending on whether it is online or on-site.
Another interesting question is how visualizations can be used not only for supporting players and coaches with analysis and training tasks but also, for example, in helping spectators compare different matches in a meaningful manner, such as through dashboards. Because games can be complex, open challenges range from offering interactive visualizations for analyzing different matches to providing real-time visualization to support live viewing of games by spectators of varying skill levels and familiarity with the game.
EHPHCI: Esports and High Performance HCI. Players are perhaps the most important part of what makes esports engaging to spectators. The Esports and High Performance HCI (EHPHCI) workshop , organized by Benjamin Watson, Josef Spjut, Joohwan Kim, Jennifer Listman, Sunjun Kim, Raphael Wimmer, David Putrino, and Byungjoo Lee, was created to unite researchers working on serving this important demographic. Esports athletes compete through a computer interface. This interface can be the difference between winning and losing, making esports athletes some of the most expert computer interface users in the world—similar to how traditional athletes become expert users of their interfaces, such as balls and shoes. The premise of the EHPHCI workshop was that esports interfaces and technology can be applied more broadly to improve performance in a wide range of human activities. The workshop gathered experts in engineering, human factors, psychology, design, and the social and health sciences to discuss this deeply multidisciplinary enterprise.
The workshop was motivated by certain challenges and goals facing the field of esports research. First, low-latency computer systems provide the opportunity for computer systems to "get out of the way" of the players, enabling more direct interaction with the game world. Second, athletes need training to develop high levels of skill and expertise; by using evidence-based training, the results can be much more efficient for athletes and teams. Third, teams function best when they communicate effectively and are able to collaborate toward a common goal. While existing work on traditional sports and team dynamics may translate well to esports, the world of online communication offers ample opportunities to expand the state of the art. Finally, esports athletes tend to retire somewhat earlier than their traditional counterparts, and research is needed to identify the likely causes for the short career lengths, as well as ways to support athletes when they transition to a new career. Given that much of the strain from esports comes from the heavy use of fine motor skills, general bodily fatigue is rarely a limiting factor for time spent practicing and training. There is a need to establish best practices to mitigate the negative factors associated with such repetitive stress and long hours spent on practice.
The interface can be the difference between winning and losing, making esports athletes some of the most expert computer interface users in the world.
Eleven papers were presented at the workshop, on topics such as latency, human perception, players, and teamwork. Some included deep dives into a single esports game, while others had broader applicability across games and genres. Other papers focused on fundamental basic tasks that are common to many games but were tested in isolation from any particular game. In addition, there was a clear desire from many researchers to gather large amounts of data on the players as it relates to gameplay and use the data for coaching, recruiting, and generally enhancing the gameplay experience. Primary esports interface hardware, including displays, mice, and the network, were also considered. The organizers and authors were balanced between academia and industry, highlighting the need for collaboration across these domains. Furthermore, the cross-disciplinary nature of esports brought a diverse set of attendees, leading to interesting and varied discussions throughout the workshop.
International Mixed Reality Sports Association. Under the umbrella of physical gaming and esports, exergame manufacturers emerging from related R&D work in the field of HCI (e.g., ) have established themselves in recent years, joining in 2020 to form the International Mixed Reality Sports Association (XRS; https://xrs.international). With leagues, events, education, and guidelines for the research-based development and implementation of these new technologies, XRS is focused on raising public awareness for mixed-reality sport and its benefits in the sports, education, and health industries.
Esports Research Network. Formed in 2020 as a collaboration of researchers across academia and industry, the Esports Research Network (ERN; https://esportsresearch.net/) already has a few hundred members. ERN fosters cross-disciplinary research on esports and aims to connect researchers across disciplines who are interested in esports; foster collaboration across industry, practitioners, and academics; promote diversity in esports; and solve problems for esports and society. Its goals also include fostering sustainable growth in esports, shaping the role of esports in society, and translating this knowledge to obtain cognition for the digitized world. ERN also has an esports literature library, a legal database, and a podcast. It supports a highly active Discord.
Arena Research Cluster. The Arena Research Cluster (ARC; https://arc.york.ac.uk/) was formed in 2020 to provide an international network for professionals and researchers interested in the technical aspects of esports research. ARC offers a number of services to the international esports community, including a browsable research library that supplies a platform for knowledge exchange through the website and newsletter and disseminates news. The cluster also publishes esports research white papers and digests.
The number of researchers within the HCI community involved in esports-related work has increased recently. Multiple events have been organized to bring together researchers and industry professionals from different disciplines and promote interdisciplinary exchange between HCI and esports. Topics emerging from these events include designing technologies to support interaction between spectators and streamers, competitive skill development, health and well-being, performance, displays enabled by technological affordances, and inclusion. The role of technology was at the center of comparisons between esports and traditional competitive physical sports, with attendees hopeful that technology could address historical disparities such as gender, age, race, and ableism in professional play. These discussions and topics will shape the future of HCI and esports. Despite its equalizing promise, esports has yet to deliver an accessible and inclusive community for gamers, spectators, and fans. Accessibility can be addressed through novel input mapping and devices, though it may be at odds with fairness at times. Some of the exclusive nature of the esports community may come from societal biases toward video games, thus full inclusivity will necessitate broad efforts beyond esports and HCI. New opportunities may develop as online computing evolves into more immersive and transformative experiences, often called the metaverse. While some companies may attempt to exert control over these emerging experiences, HCI research can influence the foundations of how people engage with them in the context of esports, promoting open platforms and integrations without removing financial incentives for innovation.
The authors would like to thank all participants of the SIG and workshops for their valuable contributions.
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Simone Kriglstein is an associate professor at Masaryk University, as well as a scientist at the Austrian Institute of Technology and the University of Vienna. She specializes in designing and evaluating user interfaces and interaction methods in different fields, including games. [email protected]
Anna Lisa Martin-Niedecken is head of the Institute for Design Research and a senior games researcher at the Zurich University of the Arts, as well as a professor for esports at the University of Applied Management. Her research and teaching activities focus on the design and evaluation of serious applied games for health, esports, fitness and rehabilitation, as well as health design. [email protected]
Josef Spjut is a senior research scientist in the human performance and experience research group at NVIDIA working on esports. His research considers the impacts of computer systems on player performance and competition. [email protected]
Nicole B. Damen is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Her current research explores how design experiences and design processes contribute to decision making in design projects and how those decisions affect user behavior. [email protected]
Selen Türkay is a lecturer in human-computer interaction at Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane. Her research examines how different aspects of video games affect player experiences. Her recent work investigates toxicity in esports, and different modalities of esports games. [email protected]
Anders Drachen is a professor and head of the Game Development and Learning Technologies unit at the Maersk McKinney Møller Institute, University of Southern Denmark, as well as head of analytics for Weavr and codirector of the Arena Research Cluster. He is also affiliated with various universities, committees, and networks. [email protected]
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