Why are organizations important for eSports?

The potential that is inherent in gaming must not be taken for granted. It is unprecedented in human history that you have a phenomenon that motivates and captures such a broad and diverse audience. From the people playing complex online games with millions of possibilities to the people playing simple and intriguing games on the cellphone, everyone around you is most likely a gamer of some format. Even within individual games the users vary in age, sex, income, social position, etc. The point is that you have a phenomenon that involves and motivates an enormous amount of the population. How can we harvest this potential in a way that fosters better communication, stronger unity and a better culture?

One of the key elements is to organize the way we play. Creating possibilities for especially kids to participate in communities of gaming can lead to great things. If we as a culture invest ourselves into creating strong platforms that uses the power of gaming to create communication between peers, beyond differences and between generations, we create a possibility for the creation of a strong learning culture in and around gaming.

Looking to sports organizations as an inspiration it becomes clear how true it is. For decades the community around sports in Denmark have been a strong pillar of children’s development. The interaction with peers and adult supervisors and coaches happens on a weekly basis. The child has the opportunity to participate in a learning community. The glue that pulls it all together is the common interest in a sport, but the consequence translates way beyond the sport itself. Children are giving the chance to test themselves in a social arena; a factor we know is very important for their development. They get the chance to model after older children and adults, seeing behavior and adjusting their own to match it. They learn boundaries, they test them and the see that effects of breaking them. They win and they lose, and they grow from it.

eSport organizations can be a key factor in controlling the monster that gaming can be. Giving a formal setup for individuals, team and tournaments. This could help guide and help both hopeful young individuals trying to become gaming professionals and create a community for young and old alike, to play together and use their hobby to create a stronger bond between them.

How then, can we build successful organizations of eSports? To understand this, we will examine some of theory and practice from both occupational psychology and sports psychology, linked to examples.

What can be done by eSports organizations?

The network of eSports organizations is blossoming across Denmark, with new local departments opening almost weekly. They range from 10 to 350+ members, some playing on a daily basis. The sponsors and local community are participating in the growing sense of unity as well, with events targeting teachers, parents and officials being a common part of many lans and competitions.

One dominating and very useful process of creating and developing an organization, has been to include the organization into the surrounding community. This goes well with the “IGLO” theory, with the addition of a big “C”. The IGLO(C) theory is a frame of understanding how to create successful organizational change. The capital letters represent the follow:

  • Individual
  • Group
  • Leadership
  • Organization
  • Culture

The idea of using the IGLO(C) framework, is to create options of development that does not just apply to one of the categories, but is thought through on every level of the organization.

Imagine a leader of an organization offering kids to play three different games at a weekly basis. Because of high demand, he decides that they need a fourth game to be added to their line-up. Instead of handing the ball to an employee and giving them full responsibility, he goes through the notions of IGLO(C). His first move is to invite leaders from the other games they already offer, to receive feedback on what they have experienced when implementing their games at first. He interviews them from each of the layers of IGLO(C), asking them how the players and individual coaches help carry the motivation for playing the game. He asks them how they have created and managed the teams within each game. He asks them how they practice their leadership – what works and what definitely does not work. He asks them what they have been needing and using from the organization itself. Lastly, he asks them what they do to influence the culture around the game in a positive direction.

The answers he gets are very differing, and the meeting turns out to be a platform for the leaders to share their experiences and learning points as well as a chance for him to create a plan for the implementation of the new game. After the meeting he has a better idea of what they have done in the other games, and he starts creating a plan that involves efforts on all levels of the organization, which are linked. A plan could look like this:

  • Individual – the players that join the new games community must all complete a short survey of what they want to gain from joining the training. The coaches do the same thing, as well as filling out a few questions as to what they are going to need from the leaders of the organization.
  • Group – The teams are asked to constitute themselves as small learning communities (the leader have received a plan from coaches from one of the other games on how they do this with succes). They discuss both learning within the game and how they feel the organization could help them become even better. They fill out a simple form that is handed in to the leadership every month with suggestions.
  • Leadership – The leader of the department puts it in his calendar to visit the training ground once a week, to take note on the atmosphere and look for gaps in the communication between himself, the coaches and the participants.
  • Organization – The coaches are offered training courses in didactics once a year, either from seasoned coaches within the organization or relevant external professionals. The organization tries their best to choose courses that adds to the coaches’ CV so that they can use them beyond the work they are doing with the kids (fx. courses in teamdevelopment, communication strategies or conflict management).
  • Culture – In order to create a cultural understanding they leader invites both participants, coaches, management, parents and even school officials to attend a small seminar of the games they are playing in the organization. The goal of this small seminar is to make it very easy for all of the groups to see what they are offering the kids, and how they are trying to create the best environment and community for the kids to enjoy the games and learn from playing them.

By reacting to all the feedback that was received from the inhouse coaches from the other games the leader was capable of creating a plan, that ensured the games implementation on multiple levels. Some of the mentioned examples above transcends the plan for implementing just that one game – the culture level of the plan is affecting the entire organization and community around it. But it is still an important part of the implementation of the new game. It is a way to unearth some of the hidden fears and concerns that parents or others might have towards a particular game, which can affect the kids playing the game, but be very hard to react to. The general idea of using a tool like IGLO(C) is the create communication and to make the plans and strategies see-through for everyone trying to make it work.

Many places in both volunteer organization and private corporations, we experience that decisions are made by a leader figure or team, and then handed on to a group that has the responsibility to make it happen. Often this can fail, if the change they are trying to make is not backed-up by all the people that are meant to be affected by the change. That is why a plan to involve and inform all of the organizations levels are of great importance.

In eSports a particular difficulty can be the communication between child and parent. Partly due to the witch-hunt that games were victim to at one point in the development of research on the area, a lot of parents think that their kids are wasting away in front of the screens. The reality seems to be different, especially when the kids move their interest from gaming alone into gaming with others. This is a primary goal of many of the eSports organizations. Including parents by inviting them into the organization and explaining to them what is happening is vital, for not just the communication between parents and organization, but between parent and child as well.

The field of eSports are in many ways extremely new, and just starting to grow into the worldwide phenomenon that it can become. This means that a big part of the way that we are handling the organization stems from how sports organization and private corporations manage themselves. But the research is growing on eSports as an individual field, and soon we will have a huge pool of knowledge to use and implement into organization across the world. This will not happen without hard work though. The first part of any good strategy is to gather knowledge and analyze the current situation you are in. Gathering knowledge on the ways to create organizations comes from being curious and creating communication channels between the current leaders of first-moving organizations. One of the founders and leaders of the eSports organization Sørby eSport in Denmark (the biggest current organization of eSports) shares his knowledge by visiting a big number of local sports organizations, part of the umbrella organization “DGI” (Danish union of sports). He even wrote a piece on LinkedIn called “how to start an E-sport club”, dealing with exactly how to organize and plan the creation of a working and evolving eSports club.

Martin is a great example on how new organizations can create something worthwhile – without reinventing the entire concept. The point is to communicate and share the knowledge required to build a worthwhile concept that fulfills the goal of bringing together people around gaming.

How can you build a good environment for your players?

There are countless efforts that can be employed to help your organization grow. Unfortunately, we cannot cover them all in this e-booklet. Fortunately, we can describe two factors that can help upon up a mindset that makes opportunities and developments spawn from the people in the organization themselves.

Firstly, the most important factor you can act upon as a leader is to further the communication within an organization. Without communication, there is no team, groups or organization itself. A tool of communication that can help the leaders make informed strategies is feedback. Asking the participant, coaches, leaders, parents, teachers, etc. how they experience the service the organization is providing, is by far the best knowledge that can be gained to further its development. We forget sometimes that the experts of any products usability are the customer using the product. This applies to the eSports organization. Getting feedback from both the participants and the staff in a structured manner can help both leaders and individuals throughout the organization make informed decision. Informed decision means that the decision is taken on the grounds of what is actually happening around the decision maker, rather than the gut-feeling that drives most human decision making. Informed decisions allow for people to feel included and for the decision itself to be structured from the concrete needs of the people it will affect.

Let us dive into an example to understand better how feedback can be a tool of development.

An elite-team within an eSports organization is trying to create a program of individual development within a team setting, for the other teams in the organization. They are trying to make it visible to the other teams how they are doing this (as they are doing very well in this field). The project has been started by the leader of the department of League of Legends – the game that the team is playing.

In order to create the program, the team starts out by trying to explain their process on paper. They quickly realize that this is hard to do, because it is more of a culture in their team, than it is a structured plan that they follow. In frustration they turn back to the leader and say that it is impossible. The leader contemplates what to do, as he sees the knowledge that the team has and uses on the subject is very important. He decides on a different strategy. He invites the team to split into groups of two and join the training of some of the other teams. He asks the pairs to observe the training of the other teams for a couple of hours, and then hold a meeting with the team, in which the elite team pairs gives the feedback they have gathered from watching the other teams play. Some teams become a bit uncomfortable by having two people watching them play, but in general they agree that it is a great opportunity from them to learn and grow.

By the end of this process the elite team meets up again, and discusses what they have learned. Creating a description of their process that would make sense, seemed impossible before. But through the process of examining and feedbacking on the other teams, the elite team has discovered new ways of describing their culture and process of individual development within the team setting. They report back to the leader what they have learned, and hand him a plan on how they would advise the other teams to deal with the process. After the leader has given some feedback on the plan, they send it out to the other teams as inspiration. On top of that, they further develop the concept by receiving feedback from the teams trying out the new plan, which further qualifies the way that the teams use the knowledge of the elite team – which has now becoming organizational knowledge.

This example features multiple levels and ways of feedbacking. Both in the elite teams returning to the leader after finding the job of creating a plan impossible at first, and in the way that the elite team gives other teams feedback, it is the feedback that drives the development.

A note that should be taken when working with and furthering feedback is that feedback is not easy to give or receive in a constructive way. Borrowing from the IGLO(C), the important thing is that you build a culture that can support the feedback communication. Focusing on why the feedback is given, and how it is given and received can help individuals to understand and accept the learning that is inherent in the feedback given.

The second factor to be considered in this e-booklet is motivation. Motivation is not just a buzzword from a multitude of business literature and sports psychology consultants. It is a key factor of human functioning, examined and described by an enormous number of researchers and practitioners.

When talking about motivation in an eSports organization, there are different groups to consider. Inherent in gaming is the motivation that the players have for playing the game. It is in many ways the reason they are even participating in the organization. Besides from that there is the motivation of participating in the social context of the organization. When we start breaking down where motivation has a central role in eSports organizations, the picture painted becomes clear; it is ubiquitous.

We cannot cover all the ways it is possible to work with motivation within the organization, which is why we will take a focus and use that to exemplify what can be gained from thinking of motivation in a strategic way.

In order to understand motivation, we must first understand what components are important for a person to feel motivated. One frame of understanding comes from the writings of Daniel Pink. Through his work with large corporations like Google, he has examined what is important to foster when growing motivation within employees. He finds three factors to work with:

  • Autonomy – The ability to choose who, when, what and how a person wants to work/play.
  • Mastery – The possibility to become better at what a person is doing.
  • Meaning – The way the activity or work being done is part of a greater picture in society.

Translating his thoughts into an eSports setting, what could be relevant is to examine how coaches keep up their motivation for teaching the players to become better. It could be important to understand why the players keep showing up at the organization. It might hold a big potential to examine how much or how little freedom is the right cocktail to dish out to the teams within the organization, in order to keep them motivated and growing.

Let us transpose the three factors onto an example, to better understand how we can utilize this tool of motivation, to further the organizations development:

The leaders of a big eSports organization are trying to understand how they can keep their coaches happy and satisfied. They have experienced a clear division between coaches who stick around for months, and coaches that have been with them for years. They are trying to figure out how they can keep more coaches sticking around for longer, because it raises the level of the experience they can provide their participants.

They decide to structure a round of interviews with the entire staff of coaches, hiring and outside consultant with expertise in structuring interviews and with a deep understanding of motivational factors. The consultant works alongside the leaders to create an interview that gives the leaders the answers they need to create new worthwhile strategies for their retention of the coaches. She ends up with an interview format that will last around 45 minutes for each of the coaches examined. She conducts all the interviews, with all of the coaches eager to join in and give their thoughts.

The questions are structured around autonomy, mastery and meaning. The consultant gives the participant scores on what seems to be the most important factors for each of them, while creating a description of what kind of subjects the coaches mentions mostly. She finds that the coaches are very interested in having great flexibility in the training methods and planning for each individual team they are teaching. On the subject of mastery she finds that the coaches have two major focuses: they want to become better players, by discussing and learning more about the game, with the teams, as well as wanting to learn more about how to coach efficiently to create results for the teams. When it revolved around meaning, the important factor for the coaches was to give back to a community that had helped them (many of the coaches had started as players themselves). On top of that, they found the social component of assisting the teams in local and national competitions were important for them as well, because the sharing of the joy of gaming gave them fulfilment.

The consultant returned to the leaders with a report made with examples and statistics from her interviews. The leaders used this to enhance the funding for transportation to competition around the country to include the coaches and not just the teams. They also gave the trainers permission to move around on the schedule for the training of the teams, as long as the coaches made it very clear when they needed keys and/or online servers, in a three-month training plan. The feedback from the coaches was that they felt listened to, and happy to be part of an organization that took their efforts seriously and helped them get better.

This example is a rewritten example from real life, with the key factors staying the same. The motivational factors were used to better understand how the coaches could become more fulfilled and feel even more motivated to stay in the organization. Following these changes, some of the coaches reported back that they needed a more concrete plan for the training to be developed by the leaders, while others kept enjoying the freedom – having great success with it. The interesting point was that the report from the consultant was shared among all the coaches, and it sparked a lot of important conversation leading to even more good changes. This was partly the result of the coaches feeling that they were appreciated and listened to by the leaders of the organization.

The most important part of the work with the motivation is that it transmitted its effect all the way to the individual participants of the organization. The teams become better structured and had their general communication enhanced. Many of the players reported back to both coaches and leaders that they felt their coaches had become even more involved and really wanted to help them. Borrowing from research on what constitutes a great coach from research by Andrea J. Becker, it becomes evident that one of the factors that the players experienced from their coaches was that the trainers became “more than just a coach”. The players reported that the coaches did not just show up for practice and left as soon as the deed was done. They stayed around the team, and talked to them about more than just the game. They became mentors in social factors as well as the technical parts of the game.

Both feedback and motivation are important when doing organizational development. But they cannot stand alone. They are brought forth as examples in this e-booklet to show that the ways we work with our organizations can be diverse and important to explore. If we use strategic organizational development to enhance the factors that we learn are the most important for exactly our organization, by gathering knowledge about peers and analyzing the organization itself, we can create an even stronger community.