I asked our department’s five student summer research award recipients to provide us with a brief update about how their projects are going. Here’s what Rodger Caudill had to say about his research project concerning altruism and online gaming.
With my ethnographic dive into altruism in League of Legends, I have been examining communication between professional E-sports players, and the role of minority identities in the community. I originally aimed to go down to Riot Games HQ in Santa Monica, but due to the presence of sensitive information, I was denied access to their headquarters. While this was a slight hang up, I managed to become involved with the competitive E-sports organization, Cognitive Gaming, in addition to having many interviews with both professional players, and active members of the League of Legends and E-sports communities. These past few weeks I have been an observer of a professional gaming team, Cognitive Gaming, as they had been preparing for Qualifiers to attend PAX, Penny Arcade Expo, in Seattle this year. Spending the past two weeks with Cognitive’s Heroes of the Storm team, a game very similar to League of Legends, and interviewing unique members of the League of Legends community from the player behavior team of League of Legends, to stand-up League of Legends comedians, my daily schedule has only just returned to a state of normalcy. Watching and interviewing a competitive E-sports team on a daily basis has given me incredible insights into what it takes to be a professional gamer.
Most interesting is the emotional state of the E-sports scene, which creates an environment where professionals typically do not last more than a year. The stress and intensity of a game like League of Legends can literally destroy careers after less than a year of “play”. A competitive team must practice for at least eight hours a day to remain relevant, and when they are not practicing as a team, each member practices individual mechanics, or reflex skill, on their own time. Being allowed to sit in during Cognitive’s scrims has given me insight into what it takes to be one of the best teams in the region. The hours of coding and observations that I have done has led to patterns that, when asked to share my data with teammates of Cognitive, has even surprised them. My interviews and observations have led to long lasting relationships with some of these professional, and influential community members. With the opportunities Cognitive gaming has given to my research, interviews others have provided, and the Goffman texts I have waded through, I enter another long period of data harvesting to finalize my ethnographic research into the heart of League of Legends and its community.
I think it’s a truism of ethnographic fieldwork that things never quite go as expected, and there are always unforeseen hurdles and challenges. It sounds like you’ve done a great job navigating those challenges, Rodger, and good luck wrapping up your analysis in the remainder of the summer. Thanks for the update!