S1:E3 Dr. Ray Pastore – How data can impact esports

February 15, 2021 |  Data, Students
37 min

Dr. Ray Pastore is an Associate Professor and Esports Program Coordinator at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. He shares how IT teams can support new or existing college esports programs and how esports will evolve in higher education.

 

He also talks about how IT professionals can support new or existing college esport programs, and how he thinks the f

Derrick Hirschi  0:00

Hello everyone and welcome. I’m Derrick Hirschi, Technical Support Specialist here at LabStats and I’m joined today by Dr. Ray Pastore, an associate professor and eSports Program Coordinator at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Many people might say eSports are still kind of in their infancy, they’re still up and coming, what data insights do you think would be valuable to someone who is running an  eSports program? 

Dr. Ray Pastore  0:22

So we are all about data. Everything, every decision I’m making is data driven. So there’s so many different types of data that interest me. So, I mean, we can start from like a lab perspective. Like, what am I interested in? If I’m running an Esports arena or an Esports lab, I need to have use, I need to have time…what people are doing. Specifically focusing on the eSports part, what game are they playing? Any kind of data that I can get will help me show return on investment of my program? [That] will help me show return on investment of my lab? [That] will also help me make decisions for purchasing, budgeting? What kind of teams do we possibly want to have? Do I see students are playing some kind of new game? Any kind of data like that will help me drive those kinds of decisions. But the big thing is marketability, and just getting that to show the university like, “Hey, X amount of people are using this lab or using our stuff or are interested in gaming,”. Any kind of statistics like that are going to be extremely useful for us. 

Derrick Hirschi  1:23

Well, then I think there’s so much of a…in many places, you end up with kind of a bias against gaming and gamers…”Oh it’s a waste of time. Oh, it’s…you should be focusing on something that actually has a future,”. You know, that kind of…you hear that all the time. 

Dr. Ray Pastore  1:35

Yeah. And there’s a couple ways to go. And you know, what you just said, look at that there’s the Yes, as a coach or captain of a team or director of a program, you need to… your students are on a schedule. So you have to make sure they practice X amount of hours, but you don’t want them to just spend every single second in the lab either. So you have to monitor that. So all of that goes into that. And you know, when people say that gaming maybe is well, maybe not a great thing, we have to remember if we start talking to Elon Musk, or the late founder of Apple Computer, Steve Jobs, or any of those people, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, about how did they get interested in tech? Where did that come from? Every single one of them, attributes it to their early days of playing video games. They wanted to learn how to design and create their own game and learn how to program and that brought them into the next level of things. 

Derrick Hirschi  2:29

Yeah, being able to see once when students are using University resources to practice or to, or to coordinate or to just hone their skills. You can see what games they’re playing, how long they’re playing, when they’re the focus time, stuff like that. 

Dr. Ray Pastore  2:41

Absolutely. And those are all important stats that you need. I mean, that really helps. Every decision is data driven. And you need that data in order to make these decisions, especially for your administrators, your boards, all the people who control that money.

Derrick Hirschi  2:56

So keeping with the topic of data, how do you actually measure a student athlete’s performance? Is it related to personal wins and loss ratio? Is it related to their observed skills? Or is it more of a team-based thing? How do you measure that? 

Dr. Ray Pastore  3:10

Yeah, that’s a great question. So there’s lots of ways you’re going to measure performance. So first of all, yes, what you said, you’re going to measure win-losses and basics…that’s like the, you know, the high level stuff, and everyone’s gonna see, but on top of that, you’ve got to measure like, what are their interactions? Like? How do they interact with their team? Are they a good team player? Are they non-toxic? Like, what kinds of things are they writing [or] typing? How are they using that communication element within eSports? [That’s] super important. And then in addition to that, their GPA, and what kind of student are they in addition to how well they play? But it goes into everything. How they practice, how they perform, how they perform with a team, how the team performs, their GPA, their communication. There’s a lot of things that are going to go into that equation. 

Derrick Hirschi  3:52

And so you mentioned GPA, you know, traditional sports have a lot of, you know, you’re required to keep certain grades or certain amounts of study hours and stuff before you’re able to compete. Does eSports have the same kind of thing? Or is it still too young of a discipline for that to be really set up yet?

Dr. Ray Pastore  4:08

It’s too young, and it’s coming. We’re not part of the NCAA and I don’t foresee that happening eSports is the Wild West right now. There are several organizations really leading the college charge and high school charge and middle school charge and professional charge. We’re all in this wild west of it, but you know, the GPA requirement is up to the university to set it. We do have one set and it is something you have to pay attention to and keep track of and that with GPA goes into students’ study hours, student play time, how long are they allowed to practice? How much do they need to study? What kind of grades do you [need]? There’s a lot that goes into what kind of person is this? 

Derrick Hirschi  4:47

Okay. And how do students try out for an Esports team is there is there kind of a process they go through? I imagine this is probably pretty individual for the organization as well.

Dr. Ray Pastore  4:55

It’s absolutely going to be individual for the organization, but there are a couple things. So the first, most basic thing that you’re going to want to do is you’re going to look at the students’ rank in general, because most of these games the students are playing all have their own ranking system within the game. So the first thing you do is look at all the students’ rank [in the] position they play. That’s the basic thing that you look at, but then you have to talk to them and make sure: are they the type of person that you’d want on a team? Because just because someone’s good in a game doesn’t mean that they’re not a…you know, not great on a team. So they might be good individually, [but] not good on a team, you have to make sure people have the right mindset and ability and really want to do it and be on the team. So are they willing to go by the universities’ ethics and really represent the university and make sure that people are non-toxic, and they want to work with others and do well.

Derrick Hirschi  5:46

Okay, how do you measure the success of the program at large? Is there…I mean, it’s, I don’t know how many competitions [they are]. Other sports have this constant set of scheduled competitions, scheduled games, scheduled matches with other colleges. How do you measure the success of your eSports program?

Dr. Ray Pastore  6:04

So it’s going to vary by the size of the eSports program and the goals because there are eSports programs that are just kind of like a club that are more for marketing and fun for students and a community place. And that’s part of what we have at UNCW. But then there’s the competitive side, which is more about: how are we doing? What are our wins and losses? How are we doing? Who are we competing against? And how are we doing against them? How much are we practicing? And that’s where we start to measure that success. And then there’s the academic side of eSports, where we look at: how many students do we have in a program? And how much money is that bringing to the program and university?

Derrick Hirschi  6:40

Okay, how do you encourage or develop…I’ve always wondered this, how do you encourage or develop a student to a specific game or games of their choice? There’s 100 million choices out there for eSports? You know, and they come and go like crazy? 

Dr. Ray Pastore  6:55

Sure. 

Derrick Hirschi  6:55

How do you figure out what games are a good fit for students? Or maybe the game they’re playing…and you’re starting to recognize “This might not be where you should be? Let’s try you over here.” That kind of thing? Is that something that happens in eSports?

Dr. Ray Pastore  7:07

So one of the things that your software does is tell us what games students are playing and most universities that are setting up eSports? While there are competitions in all kinds of games, we need to know what kind of population we have? Because that’s how we decide what games we’re going to play. Because as you said, there are 10 or 20 different competitions for different games happening. So we’re not going to compete in all of them. We’re going to pick maybe three to six. So I need to find out what games my students are interested in to form teams based on that interest. So that’s how most programs are really starting up and working right now is that we are picking. And there are…yes, there are some more popular games that you’re going to have a larger audience for. But there are also smaller ones that that’s happening as well. [It] really just depends on your university and your level of interest and engagement that you have with the students towards that game.

Derrick Hirschi  7:58

I see. I see. So at what point does it change from encouraging a college kid to play video games to something greater than that?

Dr. Ray Pastore  8:08

Well, it all depends on the person and their goals. So let’s say I take just a general student that’s interested in the gaming community. I may actually push them towards marketing or management or teaching or whatever their goal is, and figure out how to incorporate gaming and eSports into that end goal. But when you start to take the student who is doing exceptionally well, and starting to be recognized [and] having a large viewership number in streams and performing really well in competition, you’re going to start to encourage them to enter that professional level. And we have students at UNCW that are doing that, that are working towards becoming a pro or they’re semi-professional, and they’re working to get at the highest level.

Derrick Hirschi  8:52

Is there a discernible threshold that they cross when it becomes, you know, it’s one thing to be competing in eSports. But then you’re looking at this, a student in front of you going “Man, you can go somewhere,”. How do you know that?

Dr. Ray Pastore  9:06

Oh, yeah, I mean, it’s just like any other sport, let me just take the most basic thing of running like someone can run really fast, and someone can run super, super, super fast and just blow everyone away. Same thing in eSports, you notice the same kind of thing. They’re, they rank up in the game way higher and significantly faster than everyone else. It’s the same with baseball, they can just hit home runs and hit them farther than everyone else. And they just stand out. I mean, they stand out. You know, and we have a lot of really good players. And there’s a lot of really good players out there in the college scene. But when you have a few of them that are the highest, highest level, I mean, I’m talking like top 500 in the world. They really stand out in the servers based on who they are and what they’re doing.

Derrick Hirschi  9:50

So and…another thing that I’ve always been very, very curious about. It seems like there’s a new esport, a new big name game every four months. And [it] even switches genres as well. How do you…how do you choose which game? You mentioned this a little bit? You know, it was kind of up to student choice in some cases. But is there a method you use for kind of determining, “We really need to focus on these games, we think these ones are going to be the big ones.”

Dr. Ray Pastore  10:19

Sure, you know, there’s a, there’s a top three, big popular eSports, game, top three, top five, whatever you want to say game that is going to be very common across universities, and those are the games you focus on. But you know, there are new games coming out all the time, but a lot of them are like, part two of the previous game. For example, the latest Call of Duty game just came out. It’s like, the next one of the current game.

Derrick Hirschi  10:43

Number, like 16, or something like that overall. 

Dr. Ray Pastore  10:46

Yeah. So it’s not necessarily always like, you know, League of Legends has been around for over 10 years. 

Derrick Hirschi  10:51

Yeah. 

Dr. Ray Pastore  10:51

And it’s the number one most competitive game, you know, so you know, we were watching Overwatch, they’re coming out with Overwatch 2. We’re excited for that. But yes, new games do come out and you just kind of see, “Is this game going to be an esport? Like, is this game going to be competitive?” Do we have enough students that are going to like what is…and as you mentioned, like Twitch the viewership numbers for that game are important too. Is this a top 10 channel at Twitch? But if only, like 1000 people are watching it each day, it’s maybe you don’t want to compete in that game. So you’re not going to have interest. But if you see that there’s 200,000 people any hour of the day watching that channel, you’re like, “That’s probably…there’s something there.

Derrick Hirschi  11:30

Is there any value to cross training in game? 

Dr. Ray Pastore  11:32

There’s not really cross training, but it does work similar to other sports where, like if you’re a soccer player, and you’re really good at running, you maybe can pick up another sport that is somewhat similar. And that’s no different from eSports. A lot of the professionals for example, some of the top pros have switched, they switched…they were Halo players, which was a first-person shooter, and then they switched to Call of Duty or now they’re the ones playing…they’re the best in Fortnite, or the new game Valorant. So that skill of being, [of] having that hand eye coordination on the keyboard, the ability to act fast, the strategies, all are applicable. The ability to aim really fast with a mouse. So some of those skills are going to transfer across the game. But yes, you have to learn the new rule set. And you have to be able to play under this new rule set and new maps and new game types. You know, when you’re talking about an eSport, at the professional level, it’s just like any other sport where like, the littlest error…like in golf. Like a golfer misses one putt, and they lost the tournament because of that one putt out of 36 holes or whatever. eSports is no different. It’s like you missed that one shot, you might lose the game, like your whole team might lose, because you missed one little one-second thing. It’s the same kind of thing. So yeah, you have to be on point,

Derrick Hirschi  12:53

Changing tracks a little bit. North America’s eSports infrastructure, you know, the coaching, the talent, the programs, etc. They’ve been criticized a bit as being underdeveloped compared to other countries like maybe other regions like maybe China or Europe, or Korea especially. Do you believe that it is underdeveloped here in the United States compared to those regions?

Dr. Ray Pastore  13:13

I think we’re catching up. I think sure, like a country like Korea, man, they are on top of it. They’ve got the investment, they’ve got the games.

Derrick Hirschi  13:21

Well they’ve been doing it for so long. 

Dr. Ray Pastore  13:22

Yeah. And that’s the thing they…you know, we were doing it a long time here too. But it didn’t become as popular as it did there. So…just culturally, they were able to make it something more. And it’s happening here, and it’s coming. And it’ll come. Like I’m convinced that as viewership grows, as financial opportunities grow, as investment opportunities grow, it’s going to come but companies need to see a return on [investment]. They need to see money, and they need to see dollars, and they need to see the viewers. So it’s all going to come and it’s happening fast. And it’s happening in a lot of different directions. So people aren’t sure what this is going to look like in a few years. Like, who’s going to take