eSports, Fangirls & the Celebrity Gamer: Autoethnography & State of Play

After dabbling in some autoethnographic research in the past — one of the ‘perks’ of being a Cultural Studies major — the notion of analysing, recording and addressing my personal experiences was not new to me. As a method to understand cultural experience, Ellis, Adams and Bochner describe autoethnography as an approach that embodies “subjectivity, emotionality and the researcher’s influence on research.” By doing so, this methodology helps to “facilitate understanding of a culture for insiders and outsiders”, and whilst watching State of Play, I was undeniably the outsider looking in.

It would be a complete lie to say I wasn’t entirely gobsmacked when watching and thus experiencing State of Play. I had never even heard of eSports until just last year and I would have never been able to comprehend the fervour with which its community shared.

For those of you who don’t know, eSports is an organised competition which involves the playing of video games — mostly multiplayer ones — across a number of electronic platforms. One of the most popular in this gaming phenomenon is the League of Legends World Championship. The global eSports market spans across transnational borders and attracts a viewership of over 200 million. In 2016, the industry is expected to make an approximate $463 million.

The documentary State of Play follows the lives of professional gamers — most notably Lee Jae Dong, — providing viewers with unique insight into the Korean cultural phenomenon that is gaming. I recorded my response to the documentary, and this is what I found most intriguing:

06

Lee Jae Dong

  • There was a distinct parallel I found myself constantly drawing on when watching Lee Jae Dong and his teammates compete in arduous keyboard thrashing battles. I couldn’t help but picture them as professional NFL players, striving for their chance at the Superbowl. They mirrored the same traits I expected in an Olympic team. Yet despite this, and perhaps most surprising to me was, they were just gamers.
  • The fan following which Lee Jae Dong and his teammates had accrued was surprising to say the least. As a former Directioner — I spent a significant amount of time in high school obsessing over 1D and may or may not have a Harry Styles doll — I could see myself in the fangirls State of Play followed. I just never thought a group of gamers would be afforded with the same celebrity status as boyband royalty.
  • The pressure with which the StarCraft professionals dealt with on a daily basis proved that the industry could not be treated with contempt. Lee Jae Dong showing emotion after winning a competition highlighted the highly competitive nature of the eSports league.
  • This moment further suggested that even in Korea, and in gaming culture too, gender roles are quite strict. I didn’t see the portrayal of a female gamer once in State of Play. Is this to say that female gamers are not part of this popular culture narrative?

In making sense of my State of Play experience I have been able to heighten my understanding of others. It never occurred to me that Korean gaming culture was so revered in the eyes of the community. In the words of Ellis, Adams and Bochner, my “assumptions of the world” have been changed.

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6 comments

  1. Hi Melissa,

    It was very refreshing to read about how you were able to resonate with the fan girls in ‘State of Play’ due to your own experience as a former ‘Directioner’. This disclosure conveys authenticity and encapsulates the essence of the autoethnographic practice of allowing researchers to insert their personal and subjective interpretations into the research process.

    At the same time, I find that it also sheds light on Ellis et al.’s (2011) statement, “…the specific (autoethnographer) is able to illuminate (general) unfamiliar cultural processes”. Although you were largely unfamiliar with eSports, the experience of being a fan girl is universal and thus has helped to inform your understanding of how professional gamers are revered in South Korea.

    I also find it interesting that, despite drawing parallels between South Korean professional gaming and American football, you perceive Lee Jae-dong and his teammates to be “just gamers”. I experienced a similar reaction in my own account of the film.

    I discovered this thought-provoking article (http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/games/australians-eye-the-esports-domain-20140610-zs2xd.html) about an Australian team of professional gamers who won $70,000 at a ‘Call of Duty’ competition in Los Angeles in 2014. The article poses the question why the Australian mainstream media did not acknowledge the team’s achievement. The media’s lack of reporting on professional gaming events can perhaps explain why Australians (who are fervent supporters of almost any sport) do not hold professional gamers in such high esteem. In this regard, we can use autoethnography as a powerful tool to interrogate how our individual assumptions have been shaped and influenced by Australia’s socio-cultural context.

    I look forward to reading the next instalment of your autoethnographic account of ‘State of Play’ (and I love the hyperlink to the Harry Styles doll!).

    Like

  2. Hey Melissa,

    I really related to this post, and admittedly this post really helped to shape my understanding of autoethnography before I too attempted to tackle it on my blog.
    Whilst I was definitely more of a Bieber gal rather than a ‘Directioner’ throughout high school, I find it really interesting how you’ve applied your own experiences of following around and obsessing over celebrities to the experiences of the fangirls within State of Play. I too have very little experience with the eSports phenomenon, and so in order for me to relate to it and understand the hysteria a little, I had to connect with the fangirls. I suppose this is what Ellis et al discusses within his text, applying your own experiences and culture to bridge an understanding and see how that differs to other people.

    One of the standout moments for me within the documentary, was when one of the gamers explained how, in Korea, men are raised to not show emotion, but when he won his competition, he felt and expressed all kinds of emotions. You touched on this within your post, and I agree that it demonstrates how serious gaming is within Korea and how it is treated as a justifiable career choice. This article, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-11-30/international-gaming-tournaments-proving-esports-on-the-rise/6987696, reports on a gaming competition within Australia. Not once did I hear about this event within mainstream media in Australia, highlighting the lack of exposure and importance placed on gaming within our culture. Interesting to see how it changes around the world.

    Love the conversational tone and the dot-point format of your post. Great work, I’ll be looking out for your next post 🙂

    Like

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