Esports research lab opens in UL

Esports research lab opens in UL
At the Lero esports science research lab are, from left, software lead Prof Conor Ryan, postgraduate researcher Yueying Gong, and lab director Mark Campbell. Picture: Diarmuid Greene.

Ireland’s first esports research lab has opened at the University of Limerick.

Lero, a world-leading Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) research centre, will conduct studies to boost the performance of international amateur and professional esports players.

Esports — or competitive video gaming — have developed into a massive industry in recent years, with economists tipping it to break the $1bn mark this year.

Last November, the first Dublin Games Festival took place. It was the largest esports tournament ever to take place in Ireland and saw about 3,000 people compete in games like Overwatch, Rocket League and Fortnite.

Last month, the Fortnite World Cup took place in New York, with 16-year-old American gamer Kyle ‘Bugha’ Giersdorf winning $3m (€2.7m) by claiming first place. Dubliner Joshua Juliano, 17, took home $50,000 from the same event.

But, despite the massive growth in the sector, there has been very little application of sports science on the participants to date. Lero plans to monitor brain activity, eye movement and even mouse grip to determine how to maximise the potential of elite esports players.

Mark Campbell, director of the Lero esports research lab, said it is a huge growth area.

“Our research lab will combine health science and computing to identify what makes a great player,” he said.

“For example, we will work on psychometric software incorporating eye tracking and brain imaging to measure the neural, cognitive and physical attributes of the most effective players.”

He added that research has shown that this is a sport in which female players can compete on equal terms with their male counterparts.

“While playing video games does have a male image, there is no physical benefit for either sex unlike many traditional sports such as rugby.

"In esports, although there are far fewer female players, competitions are not organised by gender, so men and women compete against each other on equal terms,” he said.

Revenues of global e-sports hits $1.1bn in 2019, a year-on-year growth of 26.7%, according to analytics company NewZoo. The total global esports audience in 2019 will be 453.8m, a yearly growth of 15%.

“Esports represent a rapidly growing billion-dollar global industry which is using innovation to push the boundaries of technology,” said Professor Mark Ferguson, director general of Science Foundation Ireland and chief scientific adviser to the Government.

This new Lero SFI Research Centre lab will help bring about greater levels of international visibility to the games industry, solidifying expertise across Irish third-level institutions and industry.

Lero has already conducted initial research at international events analysing players of some of the most popular e-sports games including “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” and “League of Legends”.

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