What’s happening in Europe’s first e-sports research lab?

21 Jun 2021

Dr Mark Campbell. Image: Diarmuid Greene/True Media

At Lero, Dr Mark Campbell leads a team applying scientific rigour to the study of e-sports performance and its potential therapeutic applications.

At Lero, the Science Foundation Ireland research centre for software, Dr Mark Campbell, is director of the Esports Science Research Lab.

Based at University of Limerick, Campbell is also a senior lecturer in sport, exercise and performance psychology at the university, where he has worked for 10 years.

Recently, Campbell’s team published a paper in the academic journal JMIR Serious Games. This paper focused on gaming and mental health, as the Lero researchers found that video games could be used as an alternative or addition to traditional therapies for depression or anxiety.

‘A lot of people still don’t realise just how big gaming and e-sports is’

What inspired you to become a researcher?

As an undergraduate in University College Dublin studying psychology, I found attending the lectures of Prof Aidan Moran to be very inspiring. Aidan would integrate a lot of his research into his teaching and I found this approach so fascinating.

I was very drawn to cognitive psychology, ie how the mind processes, stores and uses information, as a result. I have been fascinated with the area ever since.

What research are you currently working on?

For the past five years, I have been fortunate enough to set up Ireland and Europe’s very first Esports Science Research Lab. Over this time we have grown to become a team of eight researchers. We are a multidisciplinary group ranging from psychology and computer science to neuroscience, biomechanics and data analytics.

The current focus of our work centres around deriving and evaluating the key performance indicators in e-sports and computer gaming. We can the quantify the effect of each indicator or attribute on gaming performance, and look at novel ways to train and augment these skills.

In your opinion, why is e-sports research important?

E-sports science is in its infancy still so it is important to establish sound and robust scientific practices, methodologies and know-how.

I think it is important to build solid foundations on which future work can build.

What commercial applications do you foresee for e-sports research?

A big focus of our lab is designing and building software tests that quantify and measure e-sports skills. We have very recently successfully licenced this intellectual property to a gaming company. This company has launched this product now as a training tool for competitive computer gamers looking to be coached and to improve aspects of their gaming skills.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face as an e-sports researcher?

As a researcher, you always want to expand the knowledge in your field but there is more to being a researcher than that.

We are very lucky to be supported by Science Foundation Ireland and Lero as funding a fully manned lab is expensive. But we are always looking to partner with companies whose work and values align with our research.

Just as important is attracting the right people, with the right expertise and skillsets to further the research.

When you have the right partners and the right people, the research really flourishes.

Are there any common misconceptions about e-sports research?

Yes, a lot of people still don’t realise just how big gaming and e-sports is. The gaming industry is valued at over $100bn dollars and rising every year. Over 2.7bn people regularly play computer games.

Some people think gaming is only for kids and is an addictive, solitary, sedentary activity. But we are starting to see very real and tangible benefits to gaming – notably, better cognitive skills and attributes, social and emotional benefits, and gaming even mitigating mental health symptoms.

What are some of the areas of research you’d like to see tackled in the years ahead?

I think an emphasis on the health and wellbeing side of e-sports and gaming would be very welcome as well as more in-depth research on the neurocognitive benefits of gaming to young adults, and particularly older adults or in active ageing.

Are you a researcher with an interesting project to share? Let us know by emailing editorial@siliconrepublic.com with the subject line ‘Science Uncovered’.