Knowledge Production in E-Sports Culture: Learning with and from the Masters

Knowledge Production in E-Sports Culture: Learning with and from the Masters

Robert James Hein (The Pennsylvania State University, USA) and Jason A. Engerman (The Pennsylvania State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0261-6.ch011
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Competitive video games, commonly referred to as “e-sports,” are becoming increasingly popular among young adults (van Ditmarsch, 2013). However, unlike more traditional, physical sports, these video games blur the lines between their participants and spectators (Cheung & Huang, 2011), encouraging veterans and newcomers alike to become contributing members evolving, digital affinity spaces. Bolstered by the affordances of live-streaming technology, e-sports culture constantly gathers its experts and novices together to play, compete, and discuss in real time. These inclusive practices help to facilitate the rapid knowledge and skill acquisition of all of its community members. Consequently, this chapter will explore how and why e-sports culture successfully champions participation and mastery learning. Likewise, the authors will discuss what teachers can learn and apply from this culture's values.
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In describing the ever-evolving digital world, Squire (2011) insists that, “to understand how games operate, we need to look beyond the game itself toward the broader cultural contexts in which it is situated. In many game communities, players themselves become the content, making them emblematic of participatory media culture” (p. 12). We argue that, via the calculated use of live-streaming technology, the “e-sports” community has risen to become the standard-bearer of that participatory culture—showcasing its aims, methods, and values for increasingly larger and wider audiences. This new era of hypercompetitive gaming is now filling major sports arenas, like Madison Square Garden; e-sports has catapulted gaming into the public eye. Thus, through the mere exposure to e-sports, people are finally coming to see that video games are no longer the “trivial pursuits” of the 80s and 90s arcades (Prensky, 2006). Rather, the likes of Counter-Strike, StarCraft, and League of Legends are solidifying gaming’s place as a serious, complex, and social activity that requires the strategic-thinking of chess in addition to the lightning-fast reflexes of mixed martial-arts.

More importantly, the online broadcasts of e-sporting events successfully blur the lines between participants and spectators (Cheung & Huang, 2011), a distinct characteristic that encourages veterans and newcomers alike to become contributing members of an evolving, digital affinity-space (Gee, 2005). With the popular live-streaming website as its central hub, the e-sports community constantly gathers expert and novice gamers together to play, compete, and discuss in real-time. The immediacy of these decidedly 21st century interactions not only facilitates the rapid knowledge and skills acquisition of users, but it also separates e-sports spectatorship from other more traditional forms of media consumption. E-sports broadcasts are not as impersonal as televised sporting events nor are they as static as content on video sharing websites like E-sports are thus revolutionizing how we think about video games, peer production, and knowledge sharing.

As we will explore, e-sports culture maximizes the affordances of its affinity space, provides agency to its members, and champions mastery-learning in striking ways that our classrooms can and should attempt to emulate. By shedding light on the learning practices of this emerging gaming subculture, we hope to provide educators with valuable insights and suggestions to enhance their own pedagogy. Anchored by Gee’s (2005) conception of affinity spaces and Brown, Collins, and Duguid’s (1989) notion of “cognitive apprenticeships,” we will distill the best that this culture has to offer and thereby propose a unifying e-sports learning principle. Consequently, this chapter represents our attempt to take up Squire’s (2011) challenge and to “look beyond” the games – to understand why and how e-sports culture harnesses to simultaneously entertain, include, and, ultimately, instruct its members.

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