Enhancing esports is the order of the day for award-winning lecturer Lucy

One of the University of Northampton’s (UON) newest degrees is already set to benefit from the latest professional insights thanks to one academic’s interest in research.

The University opened its doors to its first esports students in 2021, a bespoke degree geared toward creating the next generation of digital sporting stars.

Lecturer in esports Lucy Zhu is part of the team and is in her ‘writing up stage’ for her PhD. She has big plans for esports at UON with plans for her PhD investigations to directly feed into the course to keep it up to date.

Lucy says: “People might not readily link research to esports because they think it is a new sport, but it’s been around longer than you think. The first officially recognised ‘video games tournament’ took place in 1972 and, as many of us will know, gaming has really come of age since then – there are now an estimated 234 million esports enthusiasts worldwide and that number is expected to grow and grow.

“Given how rapidly evolving the sport is it’s important that, as educators at the University, we make sure our degree reflects any new developments, so our students are as prepared as possible for the world of professional esports after they graduate.

“What we are doing at UON is delivering educational esports at that higher level so that any content we deliver is well supported by research, such as what I’m currently working on. This isn’t a case of me chasing reports, receiving funding and grants and publishing figures – as hugely important as that part of research is – but it’s about taking those findings and conceptualising them to help us better understand how esports works.

“Esports has such a uniqueness to it, it’s our duty to capture that uniqueness to ‘tell’ our students the sport’s own, individual story. As a team, we then feed that back into classes to help our students use these instruments to develop their knowledge and transferrable skills and, of course, enhance their employability.”

And it’s an approach that is getting Lucy noticed on an international level – she recently won a New Researcher Award at the recent 30th European Association for Sport Management Conference for her paper and presentation entitled: ‘Assessing the Psychological Pathways of esports Events: An Application of Service Quality and its Antecedents and Consequences.’

For this, she looked at what contributes to people’s perceived service quality at esports events, and how this links to people’s different levels of satisfaction which can impact their future attendance intention and choice at esports events. One possible application of Lucy’s findings is developing esports events to deliver the ‘perfect’ gaming tournament experience.

Lucy adds: “I didn’t even think I would be shortlisted. As the conference has been online for the past two years, not so many people have applied. But this year they’ve had the highest number of applications through – about 600!

“For the New Researcher Award, each PhD can only enter once. My PhD supervisor – from my previous university – has been so supportive and never put too much pressure on me, but he was a little bit ‘pushy’ about this, so I thought if he thinks it’s I have a chance, I’ll try my luck anyway.

“To get the Award feels quite amazing. I told my parents and my friends and everyone who has supported me, and they are all very happy for me. My supervisors and UON team members are super happy as well! It was a wonderful moment to share with them, as it was time to thank my supervisor for their encouragement and for the UON team for freeing up some extra time in my schedule to complete the various stages of the application.

And this isn’t the end of Lucy’s esports research as she concludes: “I might be reaching the final stage of my PhD, but I have several other research projects already on the go where I will investigate aspects of wellbeing and the passion of esports players.

“There is a biased perception that esports tournaments are full of people just sat down and permanently zoned into a game. But that isn’t the case, and at UON, good physical and mental health and wellbeing and taking care of yourself is something we instil in our students. With these future projects, I’ll be looking at different levels of players and spectators and I hope that the findings of these will also feed directly into the development of the UON degree programme.”

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