(Image Credit: Sarah Cooper)

An eSports Pro. What does it mean? How can a gamer be considered a professional in a particular game? Can we say it is because of an innate level of ability that the gaming gods have bestowed upon someone? In reality, it is more than just sitting at a desk all day and it is more than just being talented.

Pro gaming is comparable to any other traditional sport. Building yourself up to become a professional at anything takes time and dedication. In terms of gaming, it means refining skills and developing characteristics to be in a league separate from the regular gaming world.

With the rise of eSports recognition in Australia, thanks to the introduction of Australia-based eSports tournaments like Intel Extreme Masters and the Melbourne eSports Open, more progress is also being made in the recognition of eSports research.

Matthew Pluss is a Sport Scientist and PhD student at the University of Technology Sydney. He has been conducting a study, based at Sydney’s eSports High Performance Centre (EHPC), into the factors that underlie the characteristics of a professional eSports player.

The EHPC is a haven for anything eSports related. The centre is filled with dedicated facilities for some of Australia’s best players as well as being the home-base for some of Australia’s pro eSports teams like the LG Dire Wolves and the Sydney Drop Bears.

Pluss is looking for players of all skill levels to participate in the study

However, it is not only pros that are welcome at the centre. In his study, Pluss is looking at players from all different levels to help identify what makes someone a pro gamer.

“As we get players coming in from all various games and levels of expertise … they do just a small little battery of tests that we’ve made up and we just try and identify those key characteristics that make up an expert eSports player,” said Pluss.

With gear to record players’ actions-per-minute (APM) and eye tracking technology, the centre’s focus is helping in further developing eSports research overall.

Pluss says that he hopes to add to an area of Sports Science that is lacking in research and says that while there has been considerable work done in the area of video games over the years, gaining a research-based perspective from the competitive side of gaming is often overlooked.

“The main thing I want to get out of doing the PHD is, if I could establish this framework that provides all researchers all around the world with these guidelines with how we can do it.

“How some of these ideas may not be perfect but this is the framework of where it’s at at the moment … what can we all do collectively to continue to push both the research but also the industry behind eSports,” said Pluss.

What can we say from the research so far?

Pluss said that there is still a long way to go and he says that components of the study are being based on psychological research. He elaborates on this, by saying: “What it kind of looks like at the moment is that it is providing players with this environment where they can refine and hone in on their skills and to develop within a very specific environment – that’s how you can, per se, accelerate your development.

“But there’s still many other aspects to look at in terms of performance. You look at the mechanical, the psychological, the physical [performance]- all of them are important, all of them have an interrelationship with one another.”

Overall, the study looks at how humans interact with computers. It looks at a player’s reaction time and how it is influenced by how much stimulus they need to respond to – particularly looking at whether players become any slower from more stimuli.

(Image Credit: Sarah Cooper)

Contrary to opinion, research has shown that professional eSports is not just sitting in a chair. Pluss says: “They [eSports pros] need to have an understanding of the game to be so good at what they do.

“So there’s many skills they need to combine whether it’s their anticipation, decision making … their pattern recall ability. That’s all what the best of the best sport stars use, it’s very similar but it is more specific within the eSports environment.”

There has been considerable debate around the legitimacy of eSports as a traditional form of sport. However, as an activity that requires a similar set of skills to archery or darts, eSports has an opportunity to place itself within the sporting world – recently shown when it was announced that the 2019 Southeast Asian Games will include eSports for the first time as a gold medal event.

Interested in contributing to the eSports study?

If you want to help define the characteristics of an eSports pro, Pluss is looking for people of all skill levels to participate in a series of small battery tests in a number of different games. The tests would be performed at the eSports High Performance Centre in Moore Park, Sydney.

When I’m not addressing my addiction to Overwatch, I like to dabble in the odd JRPG with some favourites coming from the Final Fantasy franchise. I’m a sucker for games with great stories and fantastic music but I also love a good nostalgia trip with some oldies but goodies. I’m currently studying Journalism at the University of Technology Sydney and as a video games enthusiast, I love being able to report on them to my heart's content.