eSports: Today’s Game And Tomorrow’s Science
Blog written by John Kalns
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One sport that’s gained immense popularity over the past years is eSports, the electrifying and chaotic world of computer gaming. This blog post describes what the explosive sporting phenomenon means for the future of science and research.
The State of Sports Science in eSports
eSports is very new (still in its infancy) and yet the sport is growing so rapidly in popularity that it’s predicted to become the world’s most popular sport, even overtaking crowd favorites such as football and baseball. In terms of paying audiences, eSports is growing at 10% or more per year, all over the world. Vast numbers of viewers enjoy watching eSports on platforms such as YouTube and Twitch. The number of people interested in eSports is enormous, and continues to grow tremendously.
Gaming videos are among the most popular types of content on the internet, with several websites and channels dedicated to the subject. In the broader sense that includes serious amateur gamers, eSports is a truly universal phenomenon with interest growing at a pace unlike any other sport or activity in human history. eSports is predicted to overtake all other games combined in terms of popularity, active participation, and money in the next 10 years.
Explosive growth is fueled by the simple proposition that anyone can be a world-class gamer. While a good PC with a fast CPU and video card, coupled with a solid internet connection are necessary for quality gameplay, the cost of such equipment is falling fast. With dedication, discipline, and the ability to work constructively with others, anything is possible. For example, in the past, playing with world-class eSports athletes across the globe in real time just wasn’t feasible. Today, gamers can easily connect all over the world, playing in real time. Gaming is, simply put, amazing and generally very positive. However, serious gamers and eSports athletes face some real and unique challenges that should be appreciated and studied closely.
Contrasting eSports with “Old-School” Sports
Urban areas, which continue to grow throughout the world, frequently lack sufficient resources to accommodate old-school sports as baseball and football. For many kids, getting to and from practices isn’t possible. The truth is that in today’s world, children who grow up in wealthier areas have more access to sports than those from poorer areas, whereas eSports are for everyone, anytime, anywhere. With eSports being so accessible, millions of people face some of the same challenges that professionals do in terms of training and staying healthy. Scientists need to get more involved to help understand these challenges and find out what helps and what does not.
But There is a Problem.
Science has not caught up to the world of eSports (at least not yet). Granted, there are some great efforts being made to better understand eSports from a scientific perspective. There are many intelligent people studying the field of sports science. To state it simply: sports science is the use of scientific methods to understand human performance. Sports medicine is another discipline that uses the scientific method to assess how to best treat, diagnose and mitigate problems that occur when people participate in sports.
Science is about presenting evidence in a way that demonstrates that a particular idea is true. The scientific method is powerful and has produced the technology that we take for granted, including the platforms used to play eSports. Science touches virtually every aspect of human life. This article from Khan Academy explains how the scientific method works.
Science is largely done in the open. This means that scientists are generally interested in publishing their findings and thus contributing to human knowledge. This is true of sports science and medicine, at least to a certain point. Publication of a finding usually occurs through a process called “peer-review”. The peer-review process consists of other experts in the authors’ field carefully reading the work.
Reviewers may have concerns about the work and may advise the author to make changes before submitting it for publication. This may occur if peer reviewers believe the underlying premise or idea is flawed or the data presented in a study are not sufficient to support the logical conclusions drawn from them.
Sometimes, the author will revise a paper as many times as necessary in order to satisfy reviewers’ concerns. Eventually, the findings will be published in a scientific journal, where other scientists can read those findings themselves. These are called peer-reviewed papers.
Sometimes data is not peer-reviewed. When the data is crucial, and needs to be published in real-time, scientists may publish without peer review so that the information is made available to the public as soon as possible. There are significant risks associated with this, but sometimes you just can’t wait. For instance, some research involving COVID-19 data has been published without extensive peer review; later, a proper review is conducted. Non-peer-reviewed publications sometimes mimic the appearance of peer-reviewed journals, but they often contain inaccurate or misleading information. The peer-review process is not perfect, but it does provide a level of protection for readers.
The easiest and most reliable way of finding peer-reviewed original research in sports science is to look at pubmed.gov, the database maintained by the National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health. This is one of the best ways of finding peer-reviewed original research in sports science. The vast database of journals available has been vetted as being adequately adhering to a peer-review process. Pubmed is considered to be the go-to source for relevant research, as pretty much any paper found in Pubmed’s database will have a high level of credibility.
Pubmed has relatively little to say about the science of eSports. Here are some simple searches of various sports:
- Sports: 384,113
- Football: 15,819
- Baseball: 4,429
- Basketball: 5,207
- Tennis: 9,465
- Lacrosse: 3,018
- Badminton: 2,813
- Volleyball: 2,196
- Triathlete: 1,283
- eSports: 111
These results suggest that there is a great deal of research yet to be done on eSports.
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