From Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications VOL. 4 NO. 2
Evolution of the Gaming Experience: Live Video Streaming and the Emergence of a New Web Community
Social capital is the term used to describe the act of connecting amongst individuals, social networks and the norms of a community and the trustworthiness that arise from them (Lee & Lee, 2010). Social capital has been commonly broken up into two types; bridging and bonding social capital. Bonding social capital "refers to strong social ties delivering emotional support and understanding" (Juechems, Reinecke, & Trepte, 2012). While bridging social capital "refers to the weak social ties in which people feel informed and inspired by each other" (Juechems et al., 2012). In the framework of the online community surrounding eSports, gaming and other online activities have shown an increase in bridging social capital. In addition, some studies have shown "positive effects of online gaming on bonding social capital online" (Juechems et al., 2012). Past studies have shown that eSports and active participants in the community, such as clans or team members, foster online and offline social capital and social support (Juechems et al., 2012). In terms of online communities, "social networks, which were based in physical space before the introduction of the web, are now also located online and reshape the social relationships between individuals" (Lee & Lee, 2010). The eSports community has expressed that "the social side of gaming is important to them and one of the strongest motivators to engage in gaming" (Juechems et al., 2012). In terms of viewership, people do not only want to talk about games or directly play them, but they wish to participate personally within their community (Scholz, 2011). eSports' distinct audience is solely reached over the Internet through IPTV platforms. These platforms establish a social community that gives viewers a chance to interact and contribute to others within the eSports community. The social and interactive atmosphere surrounding live online broadcasting has led to a communitybased content-generating community, which dominates traditional broadcasting methods for young males aged 18-34 (Scholz, 2011).
The World Cyber Games and Major League Gaming
In order to understand the growth of the eSports community, it is critical to examine major events surrounding the eSports industry. Major events include tournaments, playoffs or championships held in-person or online. The World Cyber Games (WCG) is a popular international competitive computer gaming competition that has been running since 2000 and continues to grow in size and popularity each year (Hutchins, 2008). Its unique combination of gaming, computing, media and sport content presents unorthodox content in a familiar presentation (Hutchins, 2008).
Similarly, Major League Gaming (MLG) is the world's largest eSports organization, made up of millions of live viewers, fans and competitors (What is MLG?, 2013). With over eight million registered gamers, MLG provides gaming enthusiasts with a forum to improve their skills and socialize through the largest online destination for competitive gaming (Taylor, 2011). In addition, MLG hosts an annual MLG Pro Circuit that features live webcast of in-person tournaments. Webcasts consist of competitive play and analysis via online streaming to community members and fans in over 170 countries worldwide (What is MLG?, 2013).
Data analyzed from the World Cyber Games from the year 2000 through 2007 indicated a gradual and continual growth in the game's popularity and involvement. In the game's premier year of 2000, there were 174 participants reigning from 17 countries with a total prize pool of $200,000 (Hutchins, 2008). In 2001, there were 389 participants from 37 countries with a total prize pool of $300,000. By 2007, there were over 700 participants from 74 countries with a total prize pool of $448,000. The World Cyber Games have experienced a continual growth and involvement from the international gaming community (Hutchins, 2008).
Major League Gaming has also seen a continual growth in its audience and participation. MLG's 2011 Pro Circuit attracted over 3.5 million unique online viewers over the course of the four Pro Circuit Championship weekends, up from 1.8 million in 2010. In 2012, their growth continued to increase, attracting over 11.7 million unique online viewers over the course of the championships, experiencing a rapid increase in live online viewership over two years. Additional growth is expected for the 2013 Pro Circuit (What is MLG? 2013).
Uses and Gratifications Theory
Uses and gratification theory "stresses individual use and choice in communication behaviors and helps explain how the media and their content can be a source of influence within the context of other competing influences" (Bondad-Brown, Rice, & Pearce, 2012). Within this theory there are several assumptions. Individuals are active participants in the media and "purposively select their media content, influenced by their motivations and past media gratifications" (Bondad-Brown et al., 2012). In addition, media competes for audience attention, selection and use. At the core of uses and gratification theory are motivations and audience activity (Bondad-Brown et al., 2012).
Applying uses and gratification theory to new online media, Papacharissi and Rubin (2000) suggested five motivations for using the Internet: interpersonal utility, pass time, information seeking, convenience, and entertainment. The use of the Internet as a one-stop convenience outlet for entertainment suggests that online video "combines the instant gratification of TV with the personal control of the Internet" (Bondad-Brown et al., 2012). Audience activity refers to the "utility, intentionality, selectivity, and involvement of the audience with the media, implying variations in the gratification viewers receive from media exposure" (Bondad-Brown et al., 2012). This idea of intentionality means that individuals share, recommend and discuss content with others. Program selectivity is at the base of uses and gratification theory, meaning that individuals willfully seek out media content they are interested in.
The research found that eSports and the live online broadcasting that follow with it are an emerging Internet community and marketplace with a vast and dedicated following. The implementation of IPTV in the eSports industry has directly influenced the growth of its online viewership. Providing an easy to use platform without the need for any additional software or hardware resulted in a substantial increase in eSports broadcasting and viewership online. In addition, IPTV has provided an additional medium for income for professional gamers outside of sponsorships and tournaments. This has allowed for individuals to pursue a career in playing videogames, an option that did not exist five years ago.
The implantation of IPTV has also influenced how gamers interact with their community. Social engagement is at the heart of IPTV and live streams, breaking down traditional boundaries associated with passive entertainment consumption. The combination of active chat functions, an enthusiastic user base, and a community based user-generated content, coupled with the fact that this audience is only reachable through the Internet and IPTV platforms, provides for a unique social community that gamers actively seek out and consume. Live streaming eSports competitions and gameplay have grown to become a dominant media channel many males aged 18-34 would access. The interactive and social aspects of IPTV provide an unparalleled platform for the eSports community, which traditional broadcasting lacks.
Lastly, this research has shown the various factors that contribute to eSports and live stream viewership. Foremost is the entertainment value that eSports provides for users. This entertainment is based on information asymmetry, which creates a suspenseful and enjoyable spectacle for spectators. Live stream video games have grown to become an entertainment genre on their own, similar to traditional sports. Among many reasons that viewers tune into live streams are their adopting a vicarious attitude of play and their tuning in for the social aspect that the eSports community and IPTV provide. Interactive chat functions and user-generated content provide a unique social community that builds social capital among its participants.
This study shows that the evolution of technology has provided an outlet for a new type of entertainment genre that young males are consuming at a shockingly fast rate, exceeding traditional broadcasting methods. Uses and gratification theory provides a framework for why people are using IPTV and watching live streams of video games. Individuals actively seek out media content that they are interested in and can easily access. IPTV offers easy access, while eSports and live streams fulfill the entertainment value that users are looking for. The combination of convenience, entertainment and social community provide for an active and dedicated community that traditional broadcasting methods cannot offer.
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