Esports, Diversity and Hawaii

Esports, Diversity and Hawaii

How esports in Hawaii could be the best thing for the state and the industry

Yes, playing video games is a sport.
The University of Hawaii at Manoa enters the esports industry with a new team and the Manoa Academy of Gamers (MAG), one of the largest clubs on campus. Image via MAG

The esports industry, to be worth an anticipated “$1 Billion for the First Time in 2019,” is on the precipice of impacting Hawaii’s students and community in a large way.

Let’s understand what esports are and what role Hawaii can have in empowering the industry (and our state’s) future.

Video games aren’t just a thing to do when it’s raining outside, when you’re in line at Starbucks, or when sitting for various toilet duties. Since the 70’s arcades, we have seen how video games can manifest impressive crowds centered around “play.”

Video game play is inherently competitive. Whether you are competing against yourself in Spider Solitare or Minesweeper or gathering in front of the TV at your friend’s house to race one another in Mario Kart, video games take the competition we see in basketball, soccer, any “real” sport and place it in the domain of at-home or mobile technology. 

And they’ve been doing this from the beginning. Take a look at this Space Invaders Championship from 1980:

The rise of eSports can be directly correlated with advancements in technology.

MMORPG’s (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) such as World of Warcraft (WoW) go down in video game history for showing the sheer magnitude and social reach a singular video game could have with the power of the internet. WoWpeaked at 12 million subscribers” in 2010.

"In 2017, there were 192 million casual viewers and 143 million enthusiasts [of esports], making the total audience 335 million," according to Influencer Marketing Hub

Take increasingly faster and resilient internet capabilities, new generations of designers and players and behold; Fortnite (and a recipe for every other rampantly successful online game of the past 5–7 years).

In part, Fortnite, which hit parents and kids like a popularity bomb made of 250 million Tickle Me Elmo dolls (that’s how many registered accounts Fornite had as of March 2019, in case you were wondering, 250 million. Yes, you read that correctly.) and other games, such as Overwatch and League of Legends, introduced the greater public consciousness (particularly parents) to the concept of video games as more than a hobby, but a lifestyle.

eSports is the professionalization of video game playing.

To put it into perspective, playing basketball at your neighborhood park doesn’t make you a professional basketball player, no matter how good you are. Playing video games at home won’t make you a professional gamer, but, there are increasingly profitable avenues and establishments for gamers to take their skills to the next level, and by next level, we mean a career.

One with some seriously high earning potential:

We spoke with Nyle Sky Kauweloa, esports Researcher at the University of Hawaii at Manoa (UHM). He principally helped develop the Manoa Academy of Gamers club on campus. And, with the backing of President David Lassner and the full support of the University, spearheaded the very first esports team at UHM.

Having written a proclamation to the Hawaii state representatives, he envisions eSports in Hawaii (and at UHM) as not only a means to “promote students’ passion for video games through competition and social interactions, foster personal growth and academic research, and educate and prepare students for opportunities in the video game industry” but an opportunity to promote the state, as well.

As additionally noted in his proclamation, “The esports industry is projected to produce over $1,000,000,000 in global revenue with video game companies being a major driver of jobs in the United States and generating more revenue than the music and film industries combined… nearly seventy percent of all Americans play video games and over one hundred colleges in North America have started scholarship-based esports programs…”

Hawaii sits in an ideal location for esports. From South Korea to Japan, California to the Pacific Northwest, all are home to some of the largest esports competitions in the world. Already, “the University of Hawaii has been asked to partner with other Pacific-Rim universities in South Korea, China, and the United States that are doing cutting-edge esports research.”

But, it is more than logistics and potential to host massive eSports competitions that make Hawaii a valuable hub for this industry and our economy.

“There is a natural advantage in Hawaii… We understand multicultural differences.” Kauweloa noted as we spoke about the relationship between Hawaii and diversity in esports.

One of the largest problems in eSports, high school, collegiate and professional, is the lack of representation across demographics, from gender to LGBTQ+.

“Girls… and the LGBTQ+ community…are generally not inclined to feel welcomed…or felt different or discouraged from entering these [high school and college] gaming or technology generally. So starting younger is important. Getting kids to be around other kids sharing the same interest… especially in regards to technology, that’s when they are shaping their opinions and experiences. This is when they are the most impressionable,” he explained.

Hawaii can lend its “method of living with and understanding differences,” as Kauweloa describes, to help our students, whether they grow to be professional gamers or not, break down normative stigmas in the industry through engaging in the medium together, by playing as gamers, people, not as siloed groups.

"It's very, very important that we have the right adults and mentors in the space that are creating these opportunities and events… because once the kids, teenagers, young adults get together gaming, Hawaii can become an A Example of esports multiculturalism in Hawaii."
Nyle Sky Kauweloa
Esports Research and
Graduate Assistant, UH Manoa

It is important to understand, just like in basketball, not everyone can “go-pro.” Not every high schooler is going to get 3 million by playing Fortnite.

What separates the esports (and the gaming industry as a whole) from other sports are the multifaceted ways individuals can take part in career-wise. Our Disrupt Summer 2019 students visited Twitch HQ.

Twitch is an online platform to stream live videos, predominantly used by gamers. Twitch streamers can make a living by creating content and maintaining a large viewership. But, as our Disrupt Summer students got an exclusive insight to, this isn’t the only career option. Working at Twitch HQ is another way students can take their passion for games into a full-time job.

Like any other business, Twitch still needs marketing, accounting, management, HR, and all other functional aspects. Software, networking, and other computer science skills are needed, as well. 

A great handful of our classes at Computational Thinkers seek to strengthen students abilities in game design and theoryadvance coding, and sound production with Ableton Live just as Manoa Academy of Gamers and UH esports seek to ready and channel their student’s passion for gaming into life long careers. 

Now is the time to recognize the potential of esports in Hawaii. By expanding opportunities to learn about the video game industry, we better prepare ourselves and our children to participate in an industry that can be a major part in Hawaii’s economic and social future. 

Stick with Computational Thinkers posts for more in-depth looks into this growing industry as it impacts the lives of more and more of our students.