The Embodiment of Esports: Crossing the Gap between Physical and Virtual

Research output: ThesisPh.D. thesis

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Organized competitive video gaming or ‘esports’ has undergone immense growth over the past ten years, into a billion-dollar industry as of 2020. Following this trend, a broad scope of research has increasingly been directed at the phenomenon as a set of novel and unique competitive, spectator platforms. Yet, little research on what kind of embodied involvement esports practice can afford has so far been conducted with actual esports practitioners. This thesis is a phenomenological interview study of esports practice, exploring and analyzing the different forms of embodied involvement esports practitioners experience during performance – primarily in the games League of Legends and Counter Strike: Global Offensive. The findings of the thesis are based on four articles that either emphasize the need for phenomenological analysis of esports practice or provide such analyses. The thesis proceeds in five parts. Outside of the overall introduction which makes up Part I, the thesis begins in Part II by providing an overview of esports practice and state-of-the-art research on esports, before engaging directly with the contemporary debate on esports’ relationship to the world of sports. Based on confusions and ambiguities in this debate, I emphasize the need for a clearer understanding of esports practice as embodied. The thesis then introduces a set of phenomenological assumptions as its epistemological roots. These phenomenological assumptions are introduced as elements that can facilitate a more direct engagement with the embodied experiences of esports practitioners. Following this, in Part III, the thesis engages in a critical methodological discussion on how to phenomenologically study the experiences of other subjects and how the interviewed informants’ descriptions can be used to expand and challenge our understanding of esports and virtual embodiment. Methodologically, these phenomenological analyses are conducted based on data generated through semi-structured, qualitative interviews with twelve talented, Danish esports practitioners. In this context, I provide a point-by-point introduction to the method. Then, in Part IV, the two esports games are introduced, before the phenomenological analyses of esports practice are presented and discussed. The results of these analyses show the central importance of three distinct dimensions of embodiment for the esports practitioners. These are, first, basic embodiment: The practitioners experience their virtual worlds in fundamentally embodied and practical ways. Second, incorporation: The practitioners come to integrate both the physical and the virtual tools and abilities available to them during performance into their body. Third, intercorporeality: The practitioners come to experience their own avatars and other players’ avatars reciprocally in terms of bodily intentionality. These final results are then, in Part V, critically assessed before being brought into broader perspectival considerations.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Southern Denmark
  • Ravn, Susanne, Principal supervisor
  • Klausen, Søren Harnow, Co-supervisor
Date of defence18. Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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