Brian McCauley

Published on 24 November 2020

We caught up with Dr. Brian McCauley, part of the Media, Management & Transformation Centre at Jönköping International Business School in Sweden, and founding member & Vice-Chair of the Esports Research Network (ERN), about working with grassroots organisations, the future of esports and his views on the ‘one billion dollar myth’.

ARC: What are your most significant research accomplishments?

Brian McCauley: I think the biggest research achievement is to do research that can be useful for society and for esports, and to highlight the work of local volunteers, developers and other actors in the esports community. That’s what I’m trying to do.

I try to do research that provides evidence that people, especially those from local and regional grassroots esports, are doing something important and of value.

The focus of my work is to make research more accessible, and not locked away in a journal where only academics can read it. 

The esports community is so passionate and dynamic – I really love what these people do. There are so many volunteers who give their time to organise events, to support each other, build a culture, and pass all of this onto the younger generation. I spend so much time talking to people and trying to understand what drives them, but I never fully will.

Through the ERN and the International Journal of Esports (McCauley is on the editorial board of  IJEsports), I’m trying to develop the field of research by helping others and promoting people at all levels. Connecting research with industry is also really important. Research being behind paywalls is horrible. It needs to be impactful and useful.

I’m also trying to be more authentic because I think it’s really important that researchers are authentic. I’m a gamer and I’ve played every single console that’s ever been over the last 30 years but I didn’t feel like I was really into esports. I watched the tournaments and could follow them to an extent but I didn’t feel authentic. 

A few months ago I started playing CS:GO and now I’ve played 550+ hours. I’m constantly talking to people at all levels, I’m keeping diaries and trying to improve my ranking. And because I’ve immersed myself and engaged with people, I feel that I can understand everything more.

ARC: What effect do you think the Covid19 pandemic has had on the world of esports?

Brian McCauley: Esports is all about the hybrid thing. The stuff online is all about the stuff that happens offline to bring people together.

I think esports was able to survive the pandemic better than other industries because they just shifted their business models a bit, but competitive esports is all about the LAN (local area network) party – about having a crowd watching and cheering you.

DreamHack happens twice a year with 10,000 people all hauling their PCs down to these massive halls to play together and camp out. There’s this moment when all the main lights go out in the hall and there’s the soft glow of ten thousand computer screens. It gives me shivers just thinking about it!

Tens of thousands of people going bananas together is just the best thing. But it’s not like a football match – people love their teams but if a team goes out then they invest in another team or player. It’s like cricket but with the pace of football or rugby. Of course like other sports, esports is driven by hard-core fans but overall it’s less partisan and a much friendlier environment.

ARC: How do you see the future of esports?

Esports is going to continue to snowball because the one thing with kids is that they are into the things that their friends are into. There’s going to be that esports culture around them that wasn’t there for my generation.

When I grew up it was all about PS2. As young adults, we’d have a few beers and play Pro Evolution football, but we didn’t have the option to sit at home on a week night and collaborate and communicate as a team.

This younger generation is turning to esports as a way to communicate and connect, even more so now with Covid. With esports you can sit and play with your teammates every night. You can create content and stream all day – and it doesn’t have to be for a large audience – many people stream just for their friends to comment on. Esports has all these different facets to it that are just lovely.

If you look at social media, more and more teenagers are realising that this can be damaging and toxic. Esports doesn’t have the same issues. What it does have is communication, culture, training, strategy, and in particular teamwork.

Of course there is still toxicity and we have to stamp this out, but there is so much good stuff taking place. Grassroots organisations such as Prima Esport and Female Legends work to eliminate toxicity and bullying, and to promote women within esports

I think we are also going to see a lot more mobile esports as that’s what is happening in developing countries. As more people in Africa and countries in Asia like  Vietnam get smart phones they’ll start engaging with esports. And kids in Europe will start playing mobile esports here because it will be with them all the time.

Maybe there will be more console esports too, let’s see what impact the new PS´5 and Xbox have. The PC/premium stuff will always be here, but I think mobile will start to compete just in sheer audience numbers. Mobile game revenue is $75bn USD, half the total gaming revenue in the world and where the money is, the brands will follow eventually.

Another thing is the business angle – a paper by Seth Jenny re-valued the esports industry at £25bn USD. People will argue with this but to my mind, this is a much better figure given there’s currently an audience of 500 million and that’s growing.

Esports has only really taken off in the last five years and so there’s a danger there will be an imbalance in how resources are allocated. We need to look at issues in sustainability, from economics, the social side of things – more gender equality, more accessibility, and also environmental stuff because gaming PCs take up so much energy.

Esports is so new, so complex and so applicable to everything – it’s huge. It’s everything: humanities, science, business, sports, social science, sociology, psychology, education. There has never been the breadth of applicability in a field and this is all applied to the younger generation.

It’s a very typical thing that older people dismiss what is not ‘of’ them, but esports is about cross-generational play. I’m playing on line with a 40 year old and a 15 year old – that for me is amazing and lovely. A huge thing is that there are so many older people in esports wanting to pass down the culture and values.

I’m two years into esports and I’m appreciating it more every day. Until someone is in front of the live arena with 15,000 people happy as pigs in mud, they can’t really understand. People see it as just playing games but it’s so much more – I love it!

ARC: What’s next for the Esports Research Network? 

Brian McCauley: We’re working on an application for a large funding to expand the network into other countries. We really want to very much teach the next generation of researchers, legitimise research, and support diversity in esports. We want to work towards creating impactful solutions for society.

We’ll apply for lots of European grants to look at gender issues, to look at accessibility issues, and to do projects that are about sustainability. We don’t just want to create papers to sit in academic journals and are not used.

We’ll also work hard to distribute content to help students with their thesis, including education and online programmes.

For me the continuing thing is to work with industry rather than around industry. We have close relationships with international companies and grassroots organisations, and we hope that we can make a difference and connect people for a greater good – that is our primary goal.

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