Gains from gaming in a competitive environment

June 29, 2022

In our project about using gaming to boost school engagement of students with learning disabilities, we chose to use the format of tournaments of League of Legends (LoL) which is a MOBA game.

MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) is, as Wikipedia describes it, “a subgenre of strategy video games in which two teams of players compete against each other on a predefined battlefield. Each player controls a single character with a set of distinctive abilities that improve over the course of a game, and which contribute to the team’s overall strategy. The typical ultimate objective is for each team to destroy their opponents’ main structure, located at the opposite corner of the battlefield.”

To be able to play MOBA games, players must communicate intensively to plan and coordinate their actions as the characters of the game can perform effectively only if supported and complemented by the characters controlled by other players.

For financial reasons and its (relative) popularity, we picked League of Legends (LoL). All six partner organizations took part in three face-to-face and two on-line tournaments with each partner having one or two teams. The only exception is the Spanish partner who was not present in the Slovenian tournament, so it is not represented in this feedback analysis. The original set up in the project was that there would be three adolescent players of LoL and two accompanying adults attending the tournaments. Since three player format was cancelled, we ended up involving the 2 accompanying adults as League players to conform with five player format.

Originally we wanted to involve students with specific learning difficulties (LDs) - dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia- as main players but many partners found it difficult to draft such a specific group of gamers (both playing/liking LoL and having an LD). We ended up with one college graduate with dyslexia from Latvia, 3 students with LDs in the first Poruguese team and two high school students with dyslexia in the Italian team.

Since LoL has a ranking system in which more frequent and better performing players get ranks (in 2019 when we had our first tournament starting from none at all to Platinum 1) we had players with very different skill level – from total novices to some advanced level ardent fans of the game with a lot of play experience.

Still, the evaluations from our Slovenian face-to-face tournament, which took place in Maribor in October of 2021, show that every gamer, regardless of his/her prior experience with the game, gains something from being there and participating in that high stress and high involvement event.

The findings of the feedback questionnaire of our group of around 30 gamers are exactly the same as they are in the overview of the theory of gains from gaming and e-sports – they develop participants’ cognitive abilities, improve social skills and mental well-being.

What have you personally learnt from playing LoL, other video games – skills, character traits?

The first question of out feedback form was “What have you personally learnt from playing LoL, other video games – skills, character traits?” So, this question went outside just the game played in the project and tournaments as we knew that some of the players, even though new to LoL, had played other video games – MOBA type or totally different genres.

There were 33 respondents for this question as some partners have with them more participants than just LoL gamers (photographers, social media content creators, just fans).

Of the 33 respondents, 15 named communication or communication and teamwork as the most important gains from gaming. The second most frequently mentioned skill was improvements in using English – seven players mention it, dominantly the Czechs and Latvians.

Some participants (two) mentioned patience as a character trait they have developed while playing, some others mentioned socializing in general. Some players mentioned that they have learned to control their anger better and now can stay cool-headed more easily. Another player said that he has learnt to work/play under pressure. Still another gamer said that he has learnt what people are like when they are mad. To summarize these responses, we can say that many players have realized what stress does to other people and themselves and that they have learnt that these emotions have to be recognized and handled in a productive way.

Some players also said that their reaction times (their reflexes), concentration and motor ability (to control the keyboard) have gotten better. So, it means that even gamers themselves recognize the development/growth of their cognitive abilities; and they have seen the change over time.

Have you become a better team player over the time?

The second question in the feedback form was “Have you become a better team player over the time?” and no wonder that, out of 34 responses, there are 32 “yes”! Some players made a very clear distinction between being a better player and being a better team player – some of them say that one does not become a more skillful player in League without becoming a better team player. The Portuguese players gave very interesting insights into this issue (we quote answers of all the five players here): “I think so… Not a better player in the game but a better “team player” in the meaning of it.”, “Yes, especially since LoL is a team game and I play support I am always cooperating with another player and communication is essential.”, ”Yes, in League if you don’t learn to be a team player it’s a lot harder to play and learn the game.”, “Yes, listening to others is important and I think that’s something I’ve learnt.” and “Yes, I learned that everyone has their own perspective.”

One Portuguese player said that he has learnt “to take defeats graciously”. In a competitive game there will (almost) always be a winner and a loser and taking losing with dignity and self-respect is another very important mental skill. Playing MOBAs teaches its players how to deal with stress and frustration of losing which, again, is an important life skill.

To generalize, we see that LoL players – both experienced and novice – very early on ealize that League is about being a good team member, listening to other team members, accepting that strategies and decisions in a team might differ from player to player, and that a good team should come to a consensus about those.

Have you become a better person because of playing video games?

The third question of the questionnaire was somewhat provocative “Have you become a better person because of playing video games?” which allowed for both (some) self-irony and metacognition about one’s own personality and growth. Again, the answer “yes” dominated the responses. It is interesting to note that the most negative about their personal growth are the Latvian players who were relatively highly ranked (mostly Platinum/Gold). One Latvian gamer acknowledged that “I’ve become more toxic playing video games”. All Italian participants agreed that they have become better as persons and they mentioned different reasons – becoming a better team player, learning how to receive help from others, learning to control his/her anxiety better and becoming more patient.

Since the third and fourth questions and their responses are divided into a separate discussion, here we go on with the answers to the fifth question

What is one best thing you learnt/experienced in this tournament in Slovenia?

Here the free dominant answers were 1) meeting new people, 2) seeing a new culture and warm welcome by the hosts and 3) the high level of the tournament premises and atmosphere. Very many responses (Slovenia, Italy) were about growth of skills during the tournament and need to work hard to succeed. The Czech players especially enjoyed playing under pressure and the live cheering and other reactions in the gaming halls. The Italian participants stressed the value of participation and support and encouragement they got from other teams. This opinion connects nicely and – probably rightly so! – with the conclusion of one Portuguese player that though the games were tough, players did not get mean and toxic.

The next question was asked to tease out very personal (as opposed to team) reactions and lessons learn from the tournament

Is there anything that surprised you yourself (by what you did this time) while playing in the tournament?

Here the dominant answer was that the participants had talked to many people – both the ones they had met before in the tournament in Riga, Latvia, in 2019, and totally new ones, as one Slovenian participant puts it “I talked to more people I ever thought I would”.

Some students were surprised “That other students aren’t that different from us”, which lets us see how active intercultural and social learning is at this young age and how fruitful in-person meetings can be in this stage of life. Some players were pleased with their gaming skills — they had not known that they can play so well and confidently. Even the title of the MVP (most valuable player) came as a surprise to the Czech participant who got it. There was also appreciation of the skill of some players by some other players of their skill and determination. An Italian participant as his surprise moment sees “The passion and high level of (other) students”.

The last question of the feedback form was

What was the highest point of the meeting in Slovenia?

Here the champion answers were 1) meeting new people, 2) doing what we like with likeminded people, 3) support and cheering from other teams, 4) sportsmanship, 5) experiencing new culture and sharing our own 6) gaming room and equipment and 7) the beauty of Maribor and the Slovenian landscape.

All in all, we see that young people were very appreciative of the event — its venue, its organization and presence of other players. This only solidifies our beliefs in how important are in person meetings of young people for targeted activities where they can practice their skills and learn from others. It is possible that a year of a Covid 19 lockdowns intensified the feeling of joy of face-to-face meeting but we as project holders and organizers were very deeply touched by how much it meant for the young people who took part in the project LoL tournaments in three different countries over three years of the project.

Ref. No 2019-1-LV01-KA201-060426