Special Article : "Esports" The Ultimate Future Of Online Gaming

 What is eSports and why do people watch it?

 Esports is a fast growing form of digital entertainment that attracts hundreds of millions of viewers globally, but why exactly is it that viewers tune in to see the best compete in games such as League of Legends and CS:GO? Also, how can one define esports, in the light of how games, media and traditional sports are perceived? To answer the question on why people spectate esports, we set forth to investigate motivations for consumption using the Motivation Scale for Sports Consumption (MSSC) as our guiding framework for an online survey. To better capture the essence of the esports activity, we developed a new scientific definition of what esports actually means. We define esports as “a form of sports where the primary aspects of the sport are facilitated by electronic systems; the input of players and teams as well as the output of the esports system are mediated by human-computer interfaces”. The quantitative data used for analysing the spectating motivations was gathered from a number of online sources, collecting a large international sample (N=888).

The results of the study indicate that escapism, acquiring knowledge about the games being played, novelty and esports athlete aggressiveness were found to positively predict esport spectating frequency. Interestingly, appreciation of aesthetic elements negatively predicted the spectating frequency of esports. Escape and acquisition of knowledge are both gratifications that one might assume lead to a higher frequency of esports consumption. Gratifications related to escape from everyday life are commonly associated with increased levels of consumption when it comes to entertainment products. Likewise, a player wanting to learn more about a game or particular strategy is incentivized to keep watch more and more esports to learn from the very best. While it is hard to say how effective this transition of knowledge is, it is however quite clear that it is very important for many spectators, based on the positive predictive power. The negative effect that appreciation of aesthetics has on spectating frequency is quite interesting, as it is not immediately apparent why this is. One might assume that aesthetics play a large role, as most esport games are very complex audiovisual spectacles with lasers, explosions and fast moving characters. While aesthetic appreciation has been shown to positively impact spectating frequency in some traditional sports (think figure skating), we argue that the level of complexity present in many esports games serves as a hindrance for appreciating the aesthetic aspects present. The fact that many esports require a somewhat comprehensive understanding of the game rule is something that more casual observers might be put off by

Why watch others play?

Hundreds of millions of users choose to spend their time watching others play video games through live internet broadcasts, referred to as streams, on services such as Twitch. This type of new media has both been made possible and fueled by the ever increasing bandwidth of networks, advances in video packing and encoding technologies, a user-generated content culture, and, ultimately, by the desire to see others play video games. Streaming is an interesting context for participatory online media, spearheaded by services such as YouTube, that have put the traditional consumer into the role of content creator. One might regard streaming as yet another form of broadcast entertainment akin to online videos, but for many users it is a more manifold and holistic communication channel than mere video media content,

particularly due to the high levels of interaction. Due to the live-broadcasting nature of video game streaming, it offers a unique relationship between the media creator and media consumer, thus facilitating communication between the two. Video game streaming also blends two distinct mediums: broadcast media and games. While television spectating has largely been considered to be a unidirectional and passive activity, games are commonly perceived as a multi-directional activity requiring active user participation. Hence, a mixture of these media forms leads to an interesting context of spectating video games with a degree of interaction, thus leading to an experience that is more passive than playing games, but at the same time more active than consuming traditional television content. However, it is not fully clear why peer-to-peer internet streaming gathers such large crowds of spectators, and if this growth is a sign of a more general trend in media consumption and information seeking, or merely a niche form of entertainment. We employed data gathered through an online survey (N = 1097) and analysed the data by employing structural equation modelling. The results indicate that information seeking is shown to be positively associated with the amount of hours that users chose to spend on the service, as well as the amount of individual streamers they choose to watch. Furthermore, we find that tension release, social integrative and affective motivations are positively associated with how many hours people watch streams. We also find that social integrative motivations are the primary predictor of subscription behaviour. Particularly the last of these is highly important, as subscription behavior shows which factors motivate users to spend money on the Twitch service.

Content structure is king 

The effects and gratifications from playing video games have been a widely investigated and debated topic within the last decade both in academic literature, e.g. in media psychology, game research and communication studies, and in popular discourse. While this debate is still ongoing, a new yet uninvestigated form of game consumption has emerged: watching others play games via YouTube and live broadcasts on services such as Twitch. Today, millions of people watch others play games on the internet. Services such as YouTube have spearheaded a major shift in the media landscape, moving production of audiovisual media from large corporations and organizations towards

smaller entities and individuals. The democratized process of content creation on video game streaming platforms such as Twitch allows for the existence of many types of content. In this context video game related video content such as “let’s plays” and esports, have become especially popular. The participatory and interactive nature of this emerging form of media serves to bridge the divide between games and traditional media, such as television, via the convergence of interactive, communal and passive forms of media. This evolution of the media landscape towards user generated content also brings into question the legitimacy of genre as the primary means of classifying media content. In the realm of video game streaming particularly, it becomes apparent that genre might not constitute the defining means of classification. As little is known about the gratifications obtained by watching these online video streams, this study aims not only to investigate the general gratifications that people derive from watching online streaming content, but also the differences in various streaming content. To study this phenomenon, we employ an online questionnaire study (N = 1091) to investigate six categories of gratifications: affective, information seeking, learning to play, personal integrative, social integrative & tension release motivations and their relationship with eleven game genres and seven types of game stream. The results of this study demonstrate that “the medium is the message” and highlight the importance of archetypal structure (i.e. the type of streamed content) over content topic (i.e. the genre of games being streamed). Particularly the understanding of the archetypal structure of the content is an important step in understanding the factors that drive consumption motivations among the users who engage with and use the Twitch streaming platform. Particularly as the importance of these emerging media platforms, such as Twitch and YouTube, grows, it becomes increasingly important to be able to develop a holistic understanding of the types of content that is being produced, and why they are interesting for viewers, and furthermore, for other stakeholders. 

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