In my high school ‘Society and Culture’ class I submitted an extensive research report about the global esports phenomenon. At this time, the industry had only just started formalising and regulating the structure of competitive gaming after the last decade saw tremendous growth worldwide. Esports is a subculture of competitive sports involving video games. Like traditional sports, there are many different types of esports; big titles like League of Legends, Overwatch, and Dota 2 all have corresponding, organised competition platforms that feature professional players, teams, and coaches. Although the formalisation of competitive gaming has existed since the early days of video games, the esports industry has seen its most significant growth and legitimisation in recent years with the capability of live-streamed events, sponsorship, player salaries, and large sums of prize money.
My research focused on comparing esports with traditional sports, and the process of legitimising the esports subculture on a macro scale. Although it was only three years ago, so much has changed for esports in the short period between now and when I wrote that report. In observing the phenomenon now, I see a subculture with firmly placed roots worldwide that continues to grow. Esports has experienced its ‘adolescent’ phase, finding its place in our global media sphere, and now continues forward into ‘adulthood’ with a clearly defined structure and aggregated audience.
Sports fandom encompasses communities that form around the shared enjoyment and support of particular sports, sporting teams, or professional players. These groups of fans engage in participatory media cultures; they do not act exclusively as passive consumers, instead they are also interacting with the media they consume. This can occur through creation of media para-texts (memes, tweets, forums, blogs etc.) or by enforcing customs and traditions associated with the media consumption (posters, pom-poms, instruments, jerseys, viewing parties etc.)
Jenkins et al. (2009) define a participatory culture more specifically as one that consists of:
- Relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement
- Strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations with others
- Some type of informal mentorship in which the most experienced members pass along their knowledge to novices
- Members who believe their contributions matter
- Members who feel some degree of social connection with one another and care about other members’ opinions about their contribution
Your typical viewing party for a sports match, especially grand finals and championships, is accompanied by countless fandom traditions and behaviours. I’d like to ethnographically research these customs, and also explore the psychology of sports fandom; why do you support these teams, why do you enjoy watching these competitions? I will support my primary research with the work of media theorists like Henry Jenkins, specifically relating to participatory cultures in media consumption. In my next blog post, I plan to discuss my ethnographic research methods in more detail and outline the format I would like to use when presenting my research.