When Ryan Rogers was writing the syllabus for a new esports class at Butler University, the required reading section glared back at him. He needed to find books that covered the rapidly growing competitive video game industry, but there weren’t many to choose from.
So Rogers, Assistant Professor of Creative Media and Entertainment, decided to create his own.
Understanding Esports: An Introduction to the Global Phenomenon hit the shelves in late September. Containing chapters written by 30 contributors from a variety of backgrounds, the book explores the rise of the esports industry and its significance within media, culture, education, and the economy.
But, what exactly are esports?
You’ll probably get a different answer from everyone you ask, says Rogers, whose research has explored the ways different forms of media—especially video games—influence their audiences. That’s why he wanted to build a conversation through an edited book with multiple authors. But he says a professional, competitive element generally sets esports apart from other video games.
Almost any time you play a video game, it can be competitive. But with esports, there’s something deeper than just trying to beat your friend’s score in the latest version of Super Mario Bros. Esports have an organized structure, with leagues, tournaments, and governing bodies setting standards and overseeing competition.
“I felt like there was really a need to understand this phenomenon and build a body of knowledge around it,” Rogers says. “Ultimately, I think it provides a broad view of the esports industry so that academics and industry professionals alike can wrap their minds around it.”
While Rogers solicited and edited all of the book’s chapters, he credits the other authors for making it possible—including Butler Journalism and Sports Media Associate Professor Lee Farquar, who wrote a chapter about the fighting genre of video games.
Rogers says the general lack of research on esports has to do with how quickly the industry has grown.
“As gaming culture evolved, esports became a thing that couldn’t be ignored,” he says. “It’s truly an international phenomenon with tons of money flowing in and more attention being paid to it each day.”
The role of esports within culture isn’t all that different from traditional sports, Rogers says. And esports are also similar to things like football or soccer when it comes to why so many people want to play—and watch—them. Whether on a field or on a screen, humans desire competition. People want to belong to something. They want to bond over common interests, and they want to have something to root for.
“People are arranging their media landscapes in order to gratify those needs,” Rogers says. “Video games and esports—whether you’re playing them or watching them—are serving those needs for a large population.”
And even beyond the people playing or watching the games, esports provide economic opportunities for the people creating, promoting, and reporting on them.
“To me, esports represents another whole industry that our students can find jobs in,” Rogers says. “Traditional sports media is a competitive industry, but it is fairly stagnant in terms of growth. Meanwhile, the esports industry is growing exponentially. I see that and say ‘wow, that’s an opportunity for our students.’”