Penn State students gain new skills broadcasting eSports

Ryan Berti loves baseball so much that he has attended a game at every Major League Baseball stadium in the United States. Two summers ago, the Penn State sophomore and his dad finished up their seven-year quest by adding Dodger Stadium to their list of all-time favorites, which include Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, Kauffman Stadium, PNC Park and Camden Yards.

“For many of us who love sports there comes a time when you realize you aren’t going to grow up to become the world’s next Derek Jeter,” said Berti, who is studying broadcast journalism. “So, next to playing, I chose my second favorite thing: talking about sports.”

Today, Berti is learning his craft by reporting and broadcasting at volleyball, baseball, football and other athletic events for the College of Communications’ online radio station, ComRadio. However, when the opportunity came up to broadcast an online game he’d never heard of called “League of Legends” at Penn State’s first eSports tournament, Berti decided to take a chance.

To help Berti and other communications students familiarize themselves with this up-and-coming genre of professional video gaming, Penn State’s eSports Club, the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism, and Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) collaborated to turn the tournament into more than just a competition.

While eight “League of Legends” teams from Penn State, Bucknell University, Drexel University, Indiana University and University of Pittsburgh battled it out April 9 and 10 in Carnegie Building, Berti and his classmate Bria Donnelly were busy on the sidelines. On camera and in front of a live audience, they interviewed players, coaches and subject-matter experts about the online battle arena game, which has attracted hundreds of millions of fans and players worldwide.

While professional “League of Legends” tournaments are known to fill soccer stadiums with tens of thousands of screaming fans, live webcasts consistently garner millions of viewers. In 2014, more people tuned in to the “League of Legends” World Championship — which took place in Seoul, South Korea — than either the World Series, NBA Finals or Daytona 500.

As eSports begin to gain mainstream recognition in the United States, networks like ESPN and TBS are starting to broadcast popular games much like they do conventional sports — adding news anchors, play-by-play commentators and sideline reporters to the mix, according to John Affleck, director of Penn State’s John Curley Center for Sports Journalism.

“In the next few years, more and more of our sports journalism students are going to be able to graduate and get jobs broadcasting eSports,” Affleck said. “Our goal is to give all of our students real-time, professional experience whether they want to cover traditional sports in nontraditional settings, like football in Ireland and baseball in Cuba, or report on a nontraditional sport, like ‘League of Legends,’ right here at home.”

During Penn State’s tournament, two teams at a time faced off in separate computer labs while their gameplay was streamed on Twitch.tv (a social video platform and community for gamers) and broadcast to a live audience that watched in the Carnegie Building theatre.

Each match followed 10 virtual “champions” (one per player) as they traveled through Runeterra, also known as Magic World, battling monsters, minions and fire-shooting towers to destroy their opposition’s home base and secure victory for their teams.

“Ultimately, ‘League of Legends’ has a straightforward goal, yet there’s so much strategy and teamwork involved, which makes it exciting to talk about,” said Bria Donnelly, a broadcast journalism student who helped broadcast at the tournament. “In my mind, eSports are real sports that I believe are going to become just as big in the United States as they are around the world in the next few years. I wanted to get involved early not only for the experience but to learn how to talk about and tell the stories of these types of games.”

Like professional sports broadcasters, Berti and Donnelly interviewed MVPs and coaches and discussed strategy with gaming experts at an anchor desk. They covered tips on how to gain new abilities and skills — known in video games as leveling up — by accruing gold, slaying dragons and taking down towers.

“It was a challenging experience considering I had never heard of ‘League of Legends’ until I volunteered to participate,” Berti said. “In the past few weeks, I’ve come to realize that it takes years to master this game, but I still tried to learn as many of the champions’ names and as much terminology as I could before the event.”

Berti turned to Twitch.tv to watch live streams of professional tournaments, study game strategies and listen to pro broadcasters.

Bart Pursel, faculty programs manager in TLT within Information Technology Services, is exploring the expanded use of Twitch as a social and video platform for teaching and learning projects across the University.

While Twitch is popular for streaming and watching eSports like “League of Legends,” the platform also enables people to host channels for sharing other kinds of creative processes — for everything from designing websites to composing music.

“Twitch enables a kind of digital performance where you can set up your own stream to show and explain the process of doing or creating something,” Pursel said. “Since the platform’s communication features let people ask questions and learn from the broadcaster in real time, it’s not just passive TV watching. This technology could provide experiences that didn’t exist before for students to learn from experts in online and blended learning environments.”

Pursel, who also serves as the eSports club faculty adviser, also really likes games.

“I’m a firm believer in games for learning and skill development,” he said. “We know employers are looking for students to come into the workplace with the four C’s — creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking skills — and games can help students get there. Beyond the excitement of the competition, the eSports tournament was successful because it gave students who participated, whether they organized the event, ran the webcast or practiced broadcasting, the opportunity to grow.”

Or, like the champions in “League of Legends,” level up.

For more stories about IT at Penn State, visit news.it.psu.edu

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Last Updated April 26, 2016