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UK Coaching Team
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Rapport Building and Communicating Organising and Planning

Coaching Esports: Introduction to Esports – a Dynamic Digital Domain

You may have heard the term ‘esports’, perhaps in a news headline or from one of your participants before practice, or maybe you’ve ‘plugged in’ as a player or viewer yourself. But what do we mean by the term esports, and why should the UK Coaching community be interested in this dynamic digital domain? In this four-part series Dr Laura Swettenham, Callum Abbott and Matthew Watson from *IFoEC will explore their view of esports and the value of coaching within this virtual context

Esports (electronic sports) involves the play of specific video games (usually the latest version of a successful game), in structured competitive settings such as leagues or tournaments. Esports includes:

  • individual (e.g. FIFA 21, Fortnite) 
  • and team-based (e.g. League of Legends, Rocket League) video games 
  • and spans a range of genres, for example first-person shooters, multiplayer online battle arenas, and real-time strategy games. 

Many would agree that esports events began in the early 1990s with the introduction of network (a group of two or more connected computers) and multiplayer functions (more than one player can play simultaneously), and since then various games and competitions have been introduced.

Local area network (LAN) events (where players are situated in the same room with a series of computers that are connected to the same local network) are still the highlight for many esports enthusiasts, but much of the participation now takes place online where individuals join random teams in ranked parties or professional teams play an opponent in pre-arranged training sessions know as ‘scrims’.

Since 2010, the industry has grown dramatically in terms of value, viewership, and participation. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic halting a number of LAN events, esports continued its growth and is now a $1 billion industry

The diverse esports landscape is now a truly global and digital melting pot shaped by media, entertainment, and sport. Competitive performance lies at the heart of the esports industry. Professional players and teams at the highest level have huge followings, comprising of casual fans and aspiring pros who tune in to official games and individual streams to watch the very best skill and strategy. 

Esports global fan growth increased from 397 million viewers in 2019 to 474 million in 2021. It is projected to grow to 577 million by 2024 with reputedly more fans tuning in to watch some esports finals than the NBA finals. 

Challenging preconceptions and stereotypes

The rise of the professional scene, with its full-time players and lucrative tournaments, has led to increased investment in the surrounding support structure, such as multidisciplinary teams, and importantly, the esports coach. 

The role of the coach changes with the context really, but if I was to talk about coaching generally, I would say it's about the facilitation of the development of the athlete. I would put it into the context of long-term development; they're there to prolong the development of the athlete over many years…  you have to be led by the athlete.”

– Nash et al., 2008

This general approach to coaching can also be applied to esports. Though referring to coaching in sport, it could also be an esports coach discussing the development of esports players.

 

Considering how video gamers are sometimes portrayed in the media as “unsociable and inactive” you’d be forgiven for thinking that “playing video games isn’t a sport”, “you don’t need a coach to play video games”, and “esports is really just glorified Pac-Man”, but the reality is often far from this. Esports is a thriving global industry, with its size largely attributable to the dedication of players across amateur and professional levels that strive to climb the competitive ranks.

Esports is the most gigantic industry no-one has ever heard of.”

– Jeffrey Glass

Consider

Coaching in esports is on the rise.

Would you consider coaching an esport?

What additional knowledge or skill might you need?

 

Whether you consider esports to be a real sport or not, or as physically demanding, the hallmarks of high-performance sport are becoming increasingly embedded in esports. For example, the holistic development of individual players and teams, creating an environment for learning, working towards a culture that thrives under high pressure, and safeguarding the mental health and wellbeing of players. 

One similarity between esports and conventional sports is the many demands that are placed on coaches and players. 

Refined interpersonal skills are also needed in coaches to orchestrate a team’s performance, especially in online teams, along with the reflective skills necessary to ensure their coaching is being transmitted as intended. 

Equally, esports is distinctive in many ways, from its broader culture to the careers of individuals within it. Many of the professional players today are introduced to the game by friends, playing for a few years before hitting a rank worthy of professional attention and entry into a structured team environment. From bedroom to the big stage, it is easy to see how getting paid to perform at a high level in a performance arena could present an array of new, potentially challenging feelings (anxiety, fear, nervousness, and self-doubt). From this perspective, there’s no doubt that esports players should have access to support systems, training, and coaching to help them. 

Whilst the extent to which coaching practices transfer from the context of sport into esports remains an important area for research, undoubtedly there are transferable coaching skills relating to working with people and their professional needs. 

Reflect

What skills do you think would be vital for an esports coach? 

How can sport coaches add value to the esports environment?

What strengths and knowledge could you bring to this coaching context? 

What do you think will be important for coaches to consider in this context? 

 
 

* IFoEC is the education partner of the International Federation of Esports Coaches.

The International Federation of Esports Coaches is a global esports coaching federation dedicated to promoting professionalism and safe practice within esports and providing developmental pathways for aspiring and existing players, coaches and organisations in esports.

More on esports

This is part one of a four-part series on coaching and esports. Part two takes a deeper dive into the similarities and challenges of coaching esports.

Read the full series

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