New Esport book fills a void, but has notable weaknesses

Anne Tjønndal
Nord University, Norway

Ryan Rogers (ed.)
Understanding Esports: An Introduction to the Global Phenomenon
239 pages, hardcover.
Lanham, MD: Lexington Books 2019
ISBN 978-1-4985-8980-2

In 2018, Ryan Rogers, assistant professor at Butler University, struggled to find relevant reading for a course on esports that he was scheduled to teach. The lack of academic coverage on esports led Rogers to develop the book Understanding esports – An introduction to the global phenomenon. Rogers writes that the book is an attempt to jumpstart a broader academic exploration of esports, to provide a wide range of views on the subject, and to give accessible insights to those intimately familiar with esports as well as those who are unfamiliar with the world of esports. Interestingly, Rogers has not written any of the chapters in the book himself and acts solely as an editor for the anthology. The book consists of 14 chapters structured in 4 parts.

Part I “Background” is made up of five chapters. The first chapter, “What is Esports?” written by Kelly L. Adams, Gabriella “LeTigress” Devia-Allen and Maria A. Moore explains what esports is and apprises the reader of the esports industry and different roles therein. Chapter two, titled “Can Video Games be a Sport? Debating and Complicating Esports as Physical Competitions” by Nicholas D. Bowman and Gregory A. Cranmer, discusses (like many academics have done before them), if esports should be considered as sport or not. Chapter three – “The Origins of Esport: A Half Century of an “Overnight” Success” by Andrew C. Billings and Jue Hou maps the history of esports, starting with arcade games in the 1970s. Chapter four (written by John George and Brett Sherrick) describes the different competition formats of esports, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each format. The fifth and final chapter of part I is based on a research project investigating how US newspapers have framed esports from 2000 to 2018, conducted by Jessalyn Coble, Catherine Einstein, Kyra Keene, Madison Lanier, Laura Purcell and James D. Ivory. Their findings  indicate that esports are becoming more mainstream and more acceptable as time goes on.

Part II, titled “Fans and players” includes chapters 6–8. Two chapters in this part focus on motivation in Esport. First, chapter six (by Andrew Shaw and colleagues) explores motivation among Esport spectator, and this is complemented nicely by chapter eight where the topic is motivation among Esport players (written by David P. Hedlund). Finally, chapter seven is dedicated to uncovering esports consumer experience. Here, authors Michael L. Naraine and Henry Wear employ a collaborative self-ethnography of a major Esport event.

Combined, the chapters included in “Understanding esports” does make an interesting contribution to a growing academic literature on the esports phenomenon. However, no published work is perfect and there are some notable weaknesses in the anthology.

Part III (chapter 9–12) is about “Games and genres”. The four chapters in this part of the book explore three types of games: fighting games (chapter 9 by Lee K. Farquhar), sports video games (chapter 10 by Timothy Mirabito and Jake Kucek and chapter 11 by Damion Strum), and first-person shooters (chapter 12 on Counter-Strike by Steve Young and Paul Strait). As editor Rogers notes himself in the introduction, some important genres of esports are missing from this part of the book, most notably multiplayer online battle games (MOBA) such as Dota 2 and strategy games like StarCraft.

The fourth and final part of the book is named “Looking ahead” and features two chapters. First, lawyer Mark Grabowski offers some insights into the legal challenges that esports face (chapter 13). Chapter 14, written by Karen McGrath, addresses the fact that many US universities and colleges have begun to integrate esports teams, courses, and clubs into their institutions. While McGrath highlights the strengths and weaknesses of such processes, the chapter ends with 10 recommendations for incorporating esports in higher education.

“Understanding esports” is characterized by its backstory. I do not doubt that it fulfills the gap that editor Rogers noticed in terms of required reading for a special topics course on esports within studies of sports media and media production. It is a bit harder to imagine what group of readers (outside of Rogers’ students) who will find all fourteen chapters equally interesting and valuable. For people who are unfamiliar with esports, some of the chapters provide valuable insights into this new genre of virtually played sports, particularly chapters 1, 4, 10 and 13. Chapter 2 also has the potential to be of merit to scholars and students looking to get into esports literature, but I feel that others before Bowman and Cranmer have done a more thorough job of discussing how esports fit within various definitions of sport (see for instance Hebbel-Seeger, 2012; Heere, 2018; Hilvoorde, 2016; Jenny et al. 2017; Parry, 2019).

Combined, the chapters included in “Understanding esports” does make an interesting contribution to a growing academic literature on the esports phenomenon. However, no published work is perfect and there are some notable weaknesses in the anthology. First and foremost, the book’s contributing authors are mostly scholars from the US. Hence, calling the book “an introduction to the global phenomenon” might not be the best wording, as scholars from other parts of the world undoubtedly would provide different insights on the development of esports internationally. Secondly, the book varies from discussing esports in general (for instance chapters 1, 2 and 4) to chapters that strongly focus on a North American context (such as chapters 5, 13 and 14). In other words, the book does not adequately acknowledge the socio-cultural and geographical differences in how esports evolve as a new virtually played sport. Thirdly, not all chapters distinguish gaming and esports (chapters 9 and 3). It would have been clarifying for the reader if the authors (or the editor) would have explicitly addressed how they distinguish gaming from esports. To use chapter 3 as an example: can the arcade games of the 1970s really be considered esports?

Finally, whilst there are some notable exceptions (such as chapter 5 and chapter 8), many of the contributions in this book are theoretical/conceptual, which means that there is still a great need for more empirical studies of esports around the world.

Copyright © Anne Tjønndal 2020


Hebbel-Seeger, A. (2012). The relationship between real sports and digital adaption in e-sport gaming. International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship, 13(2):132-43.
Heere, B. (2018). Embracing the sportification of society: Defining e-sports through a polymorphic view on sport. Sports Management Review, 21(1):21-24.
Hilvoorde, I. V. (2016). Sport and play in a digital world. Sports, Ethics and Philosophy, 10(1):1-4.
Jenny, S. E. et al. (2017). Virtual(ly) Athletes: Where eSports Fit Within the Definition of “Sport”. Quest, 69(1):1-18.
Parry, J. (2019). E-sports are Not Sports. Sports, Ethics and Philosophy, 13(1):3-18.


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