The ESC is the first academic event of its kind to focus on esports research and practice. Building on the momentum of our smaller summit meeting last year, the ESC will feature academic research presentations and symposia, collegiate program professionals panel discussions and post-mortems, and a public festival featuring vendor booths, a private reception, and a live streamed collegiate esports match in the UCI esports arena.
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Thursday, October 11 • 12:30pm - 1:30pm

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Mind Games and Meta Shifts: patterns of Strategic Gameplay Discourse in Esports (Moralde)
As the socioeconomic frameworks underpinning competitive esports become more standardized and professionalized, so do the mindsets and habits of its participants (Taylor 2012). This extends to the professionalization of strategic thinking about a game: answering the high-level questions “What is the primary goal of this game?” and “How do I optimally achieve that goal?” This paper expands upon analyses of theorycrafting and metagaming, which are part of the long discursive history of players working to optimize play (Paul 2011; Boluk and Lemieux, 2017), by considering the additional complexities in strategizing not just for a game, but for a cybernetic system that also includes other strategizing opponents.

The histories of association football (soccer) and chess, two games with extensive competitive traditions, provide useful points of comparison for charting the development of strategic gameplay thought (Shenk 2007; Wilson 2013). One pattern that emerges is the movement from disorganized reliance on idiosyncratic ingenuity, to systems-based orthodoxies designed to eliminate extraludic irrevelancies and extract maximum marginal advantage, to “agile” strategies that exploit the inertia of orthodoxy, eventually augmented with computer-assisted statistical analysis.

When applied to various competitive esports such as Dota 2 (Valve 2013), this pattern holds (Georgen 2015); however, the use of computer games as a competitive medium accentuates specific tendencies of strategic development. Because these games rely on precise quantification, data-driven analysis is present from the start and dominates arguments. The tempo of rules changes is far more rapid than in traditional sports, privileging predictive anticipation of future metagame states. Most importantly, because of the game medium, there also tends to be more interactive and direct discursive relationships among professional players, their audience/community, and the designers who establish the rules for play.

These tendencies in esports strategic discourse should be considered by both esports game designers and community participants in light of how strategic gameplay understanding affects other structural elements of an esports community. The pattern of development seen in soccer or chess is felt in esports not as chronological history, but in the segmenting of a player base. These different levels of understanding have implications for how designers tutor and onboard new players, how spectators and commentators frame basic gameplay tenets, and how esports as a media event is packaged for public consumption.

“The Meta Has Had to Change:” Histories of Strategic Thought in Competitive League of Legends (Pizelo)
Recent work in videogame studies by Lisa Nakamura, as well as by Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux, has highlighted how play itself becomes racialized, with gamers having to fight racist stereotypes both inside and outside of the game proper. At the same time, critical interventions have been constrained by the prevailing view of the history of games as being European in origin. In the present work, I seek to reexamine this Eurocentric imagining of the history of games. I focus my analysis on a series of competitive League of Legends games played in the Summer of 2012 in the “MLG Summer Arena” tournament, which marked the first competitive appearance of South Korean League of Legends teams outside of their region, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, also the first South Korean international tournament win. I will be paying attention to two simultaneous stories: First, attempts by shoutcasters to incorporate the strategies and play-styles of the Korean team “Azubu Blaze” into their understanding of the metagame; and second, the patterns of play itself, which resists any such incorporation, and forces shoutcasters, other teams, and fans alike to acknowledge the insufficiency of their current tools of categorization. These strategies—such as Blaze’s “warding” patterns to provide vision in fog of war, and their “objective-focused” non-confrontational style of gameplay—exposed the contingent nature of the prevailing League of Legends metagame. In addition, the strategies themselves have a history, and emerge out of particular social, cultural, and conceptual environments. I will argue that the emergence of South Korean competitive gaming from an insular, anticolonial context in the prior decades is essential to understanding the divergence in strategies and play-styles of competitive play. In addition, I hope to show through this analysis that game studies can provide other disciplines unique insights into the dynamics of social, cultural, and historical forces through the study of play.

Play Better or I Will Report You: Impact of esport on Non-professional Players (Koknar)
In this article, the impact of e-Sports scene on non-professional players’ play styles are examined. In last two decades, the number of e-Sport tournaments and leagues, and the number of streamers who share their superior performances along with advice and tops increased significantly. Competitive play in the e-Sport scene is institutionalized as other traditional physical sports in the last decade. The teams are formed carefully from the highly skilled players and coached by the ex-professional players or athletes that competed in other sports. Moreover, the teams are sponsored by individuals and companies as in other sports. The spectators (the most of them are also players) noticed the serious investment of time and money in e-Sports scene and started to study the professional players’ play styles to be better players in competitive digital games. Although many guidelines are generated, gameplay sessions of good players are recorded and shared by players to improve their performance with a collective effort long before e-Sport became popular, the e-Sport culture introduced new services for non-professional players since they started to study professional players to improve their performance. For instance, some private companies started to give coaching services for non-professional players. These coaching services provide individualized feedback to their customers, which is very similar to the coaching that professional players receive. Such investment that a non-professional player makes is started to be considered very normal so that some gaming companies decided to integrate such 3rd party services into their game. For example, Valve started to offer coaching service in Dota 2 for all the players who purchase the seasonal battle pass, a type of membership in the game. Such dynamics that are stem from the desire of playing better like the e-Sport athletes need to be explored further to understand why participatory culture around e-Sports shifted from spectatorship to the non-professional who invest time and money to play like professionals. I aim is to explore how these dynamics shifted the focus from playing to performing better among non-professional players.

Thursday October 11, 2018 12:30pm - 1:30pm
Crescent Room CD