September 28, 2022

Nikopol Game

E-Sport News

Q&A with University Esports Director Jeff Kuhn

As a graduate student at Ohio University, Dr. Jeffrey Kuhn conducted research on gaming-based learning, which led to an interest in the burgeoning esports industry.

In 2017, he pitched the idea of an esports team and facility as part of the Academic Innovation Accelerator program. Teaming with three students who were building a university esports club, Kuhn received the backing he needed to start a team and begin work on a facility. The OHIO Esports team has since joined the Mid-American Conference’s (MAC) Esports Collegiate Conference and competes in weekly matchups with other universities. Kuhn was named esports director in July 2021. The University’s esports facility will open in Scripps Hall later this year.

Q: What are your top priorities for esports at the University?

A: I want to tackle one of the biggest challenges with esports. The AP reports that 80% of esports scholarships go to men, and that’s just abysmal. So I’m working with the Women’s Center this semester to reach out to students across the university and find out what will get them into the space. We’re going to make sure that everybody knows they can come into the esports space. Everyone is welcome. We get a lot of people who say, well, I’m not very good at games. It doesn’t matter, just come on in and play. The more we do that, the more we’re going to see everybody get involved in the community and, hopefully, want to compete in esports. And we’re going to change that 80% statistic. Whoever you are, whatever you do, come in, hang out, have fun. Come play.

Q: How would you describe esports to someone who is unfamiliar with the concept?

A: Esports is video gaming for competitive purposes. We might sit down and play Mario Kart together, but as soon as we start to say, “If I win three games out of five, then I’ll go compete against another person and we’ll keep going until there’s a champion,” that is esports. I like to say it has more in common with race car driving than, maybe, football. It’s about being able to sit with sustained concentration in a stressful environment and be your best competitively. Outside of that, it’s very much like traditional athletics, where we have announcers, we have event organizers. It’s a $2 billion industry, all focused around that idea of playing video games competitively.

Q: How would someone watch an esports game?

A: There are a few different ways. If you know there’s a local tournament, you can always go to the tournament. Big events like the Call of Duty championships or the Counter-Strike championships will fill out places like Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. But you can also just jump on websites like Twitch.tv or YouTube and watch matches. Even ESPN these days broadcasts esports tournaments. Things like the Dota 2 championships or the League of Legends championships are streamed on major networks. The Overwatch League is on primetime television.

Q: What games does our esports team play?

A: We’re part of the Esports Collegiate Conference, which is the MAC’s affiliated esports conference. In the fall, we play Rocket League and Valorant, and then in spring we play Overwatch and League of Legends. But if we have enough students who are interested in competing in a game, there are lots of conferences or tournaments out there nationally we can join. We also have teams playing games like Counter-Strike or even FIFA. Smash Brothers is another popular one.

Q: How will the new esports facility change the experience of the players?

A: First, it brings us all together. When our students compete now, they’re competing in dorm rooms or classrooms. This new facility will solidify the community in a physical space. We’re going to have spectator areas where students can come in, sit down, and watch. They won’t just have to watch on Twitch.

Q: How will that benefit students or community members who are interested in gaming?

A: If you like music, there’s a place on campus for you to go. If you like movies, if you like books, if you like theater, there are places to go and gather with that community. And although video games are the dominant media industry, we don’t have that communal space for people. For us, that’s what the esports facility is going to provide. If you love games, whoever you are, however you play games, come join us. Come into this space. Have fun with the larger gaming community on campus.

Q: For the first-time audience members, is there anything they should know about at an esports game?

A: If there’s a big score, it’s like a football game where everyone cheers. But it’s typically fairly quiet while they’re competing. It’s a really high-stress, high-stakes environment that requires a lot of focus, so distractions aren’t what we want. But if you’ve never been to an esports event, just come and you’ll figure it out. People are friendly and they’ll show you what to do.

Q: What sets the OHIO esports experience apart from other institutions?

A: We tie esports into academic offerings like the VR and game development major and esports certificate. The esports certificate lets you do event organizing, broadcasting, game development, and explore business-related esports topics. If you have this hobby and you want to look at it in terms of a career, we can help you do that. Also, so much of our esports space is going to be hands-on. Students are going to be directing. Students are going to be producing. Students are going to be playing the games. It’s very much a student-driven experience. We also have one of the biggest esports clubs in the state of Ohio and probably in much of the country. Our gaming culture on this campus is already very strong.

Q: Do esports teams have coaches?

A: They do. They have coaches. There are set practice times, there are GPA requirements, there are health and fitness requirements. All those things you would expect of a traditional athletics program, esports has those as well.

Q: What makes an excellent esports athlete?

A: One thing I always like to cite is a game called StarCraft that’s been around for 20 years. To be a grandmaster in StarCraft, you have to be able to complete 500-600 actions per minute on a mouse and keyboard. That’s to be at the top tier, and so you need to be able to move quickly. It’s fast-twitch muscle memory, it’s the ability to think quickly and make decisions on the fly. And to look at what’s called the “meta” of the game: what’s the grand strategy that guides most players’ decisions? And act on that — change it and implement it and respond to a player making those same choices against you. It’s those fast-twitch muscles, fast thinking, and being able to operate under rapidly unfolding circumstances. That’s what makes a good player.

Q: How do esports athletes practice, other than by playing the game?

A: There’s video on demand, watching your game, seeing how you performed, watching other peoples’ gameplay. A lot of the players will get on Twitch to watch top tier players and see how they play and take notes, as you would watch someone playing golf on TV and look at their swing. A lot of players will also jump into game lobbies and play a pickup game with people, even outside of practice.

Q: What kind of physical conditioning helps esports athletes?

A: There is a lot. We’re working with the Cleveland Clinic to figure out some of those medical components in health and fitness. A famous esports player, ZooMaa, who plays Call of Duty, retired at 25 because his thumbs just can’t do it anymore – esports can have a retirement age similar to gymnastics where the speed, the reflexes, your joints just aren’t there anymore. It’s also just sitting in a chair for that length of time, which is why I make that analogy to race car driving. For the athletes, doing yoga or calisthenics and having a cardio component is really important. Also, by bringing esports to the attention of the wider university we can direct more research toward these issues of player health.

Q: What are the general benefits of gaming?

A: One of the real benefits of gaming, if you ask gamers what they like about it, is that it’s a very social experience. It gives people something to bond over and lets them communicate in that shared experience, and then continue a conversation later. If you know someone who plays that game, you might ask, “What do you think of this update? What do you think of this character?” And it gives you that touchpoint in a way that can continually evolve in a way that music or movies don’t necessarily. Our program gives students a place to come in and make a friend through a shared love of gaming, and through more gaming together, trying out different games, and getting recommendations from them about what to play, they continue that friendship.

https://www.ohio.edu/news/2021/09/qa-university-esports-director-jeff-kuhn