Esports Tilt, Flow, and Team Cognition

What can we learn from esports team processes that might inform collaboration online? What interventions can help players and teams improve emotional regulation in response to stress events and avoid tilt? What are the mechanics and effects of team flow online? As we navigate this era of online interaction, esports can be a context to study networked collaboration more broadly. Building on prior grant-funded research and development on game-based heterogeneous data sets, esports research, and a recent campus Academic Initiative planning grant, CapturEsports and the research infrastructure between CLL and the UCI Esports Arena enables researchers to answer questions around online collaboration, self-awareness and management, in-game performance, and learning in expert and developing teams alike.


CapturEsports: A Multiplayer Data Aggregation Tool for Facilitating Esports Research and Analysis

The growing prominence of Esports and competitive gaming has not only attracted a global audience but captured the curiosity of academic researchers. With increased research interest, the necessity for tools to collect contextual game data automatically has risen significantly. Currently, a combination of generalized software solutions like keyloggers, screen recorders, and audio recorders can be used to gather artifacts regarding an individual player. However, these solutions are inadequate to support research questions concerning player interactions in a multiplayer context. CapturEsports is a software tool to facilitate research in esports by supporting multiple streams of player data. Focusing on League of Legends, developed by Riot Games, as a proof of concept, CapturEsports empowers researchers to capture screen video recordings, voice communication, keystrokes, and in-game contextual events (such as player kills, buildings destroyed, and item purchases) for multiple players simultaneously, allowing analysis of team behavior. CapturEsports performs data collection and provides access to these data remotely, allowing studies to be conducted in a distributed manner. CapturEsports is designed to be game-agnostic, and current work around League of Legends is establishing the reliability of the tools and methods involved before expanding the software to other titles.

Team Cognition under Stress

As a digital space to study teams performing under pressure, esports offer opportunities to explore aspects of team cognition not so easily accessible in other domains. By collecting video and audio recordings, keypresses, summative statistics, and biometric data from expert and novice League of Legends teams, this project aims to understand how these teams communicate, coordinate, and manage attention and awareness under stress. To explore these questions we analyze team communication around key in-game objectives for amount and frequency of communication, for communication styles, and for types of information communicated. We also gather heart rate, facial expression, and cortisol data to gauge stress responses, and we collect in-game data from keypresses to summative API data to monitor performance and behavior. The combination of these data, made possible by CapturEsports, lets us examine relationships between communication practices, stress response, team attention, coordination, and performance. The results of this study will inform conversations around how stress can impact performance and how training specific communication practices might help teams manage that stress. Better understanding how League of Legends teams react to and manage stress will be a helpful step in understanding teamwork under stress more broadly.

Team Flow in Esports

Flow state is often described as a subjective period during activity when an individual feels fully immersed within their task, often losing track of time and self-consciousness as they devote all of their attention to what they are doing. Reaching this state can often result in better performance and a more rewarding experience overall; this phenomenon has popularly been referred to as being “in the zone.” Prior studies have found that flow can also occur in group settings, where each team member focuses on their respective tasks in order to achieve a common goal. Team flow has shown additional benefits beyond those found in an individual flow state, producing greater trust, unity, and skill development between members than if they had been working alone. Researchers have examined team flow in many different contexts, including business groups, athletic teams, musical ensembles, and even cooperative gaming. However, none have studied its impact in esports.

In this project, we examine how esports teams experience team flow during competitive matches and determine how the defining characteristics of that experience compare to those of teams in other domains. We look at how game expertise and team familiarity might affect each player’s flow state, and if feelings of team flow might differ before or after particularly stressful events. Through this work, our goal is to develop a better understanding of how team flow impacts esports teams during competitive play. By doing so, we hope to provide further insights into improving player performance and creating a more supportive social environment.

Stress and Play in Esports

Esports games are designed to be competitive in nature, and they motivate players to engage through their desire to win. Sometimes, esports are too serious for leisure. Vigorous play often leads to emotional arousal and can instigate social and emotional issues. Video games have their own social stigmas, like toxicity and violence, but on top of that, addiction is the biggest concern among parents and educators.

There is a fine line between healthy engagement and addiction. It is even harder to distinguish engagement and addiction of esports players because they are serious about their gameplay. Sometimes excessive playtime is required to accomplish their goal. Even members of gaming communities recognize, though, that they experience moments when they are exceedingly immersed and can lose some self-control. ‘Tunnel vision’ and ‘tilt’ are widely used terms among gamers to indicate this phenomenon.

This project aims to explore the player experience of esports players while they undergo stressful moments during gameplay, especially when they happen consecutively. The first part of the study is to define stressful events within esports gameplay and measure the stress response after different kinds of stressful events. Second is the observation and measurement of behavior changes after those events: how players’ performance is influenced and how their team communication and cohesion might change. Strategies that players use to overcome tilt will also be explored.