Distributed Leadership in Collegiate Esports

Research Track

10/09/20, 3:30PM - 4:00PM PT

About the Presentation

A growing body of literature has focused on the increases in popularity and utility of esports in educational environments. One aspect of student development for which esports fits uniquely is that of leadership (Byrne, 2020). National Association of Colleges and Employers (2020) chiefly identifies, among their Key Attributes Employers Want to See on Students’ Resumes, problem-solving skills, teamwork, communication skills, and leadership. Team-based esports in collegiate settings offer a context which uniquely requires these skills for success in the games. This research presentation shares the qualitative results from interviews with three collegiate esports teams’ leadership practices and how their experiences of power dynamics align uniquely with distributed leadership theory.

Distributed leadership theory (Spillane, 2006) focuses on leadership as a fluid conveyance of power between leaders and followers in harmony with their environmental context over time. In distributed leadership, hierarchies dynamically rise and fall out of the network of agents in an organization. Researchers found that elements of distributed leadership, such as team member credibility, agency, and connectedness are baked into the mechanics of the gaming environment. Findings indicate clear implications for career-related outcomes as a result of intentional distributed leadership experiences in esports. According to Johansen (2017), professional organizations are increasingly more geographically and temporally disparate and take place overwhelmingly in digital settings. Esports in educational settings can be harnessed for experiential leadership development to meet the needs of students exploring this new career landscape.

Presentation Objectives

1. Participants will share and process elements of distributed leadership theory and how they relate to esports contexts.
2. Participants will discuss highlighted research findings from competitive esports team experiences of distributed leadership.
3. Participants will design a distributed leadership intervention for their esports education community.


Byrne, A. (2020). Using esports to teach bystander leadership and collaboration for students in STEM. About Campus, 25, 24-27. https://doi.org/10.1177/1086482220906286

Johansen, B. (2017). The new leadership literacies. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

National Association of Colleges and Employers (2020). Key attributes employers want to see on students’ resumes. Retrieved from: https://www.naceweb.org/talent-acquisition/candidate-selection/key-attributes-employers-want-to-see-on-students-resumes/

Spillane, J. P. (2006). Distributed leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Evan Falkenthal

Prospect Data Researcher, University of Portland

A two-time graduate from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, I now do data analysis in the Alumni and Parent Relations office at the University of Portland. My research interest for using esports as a platform for student development is fueled by my own lifelong love of games and esports play at the collegiate level. While esports research is currently a passion project, I plan on pursuing my doctorate here at UC Irvine to solidify my work to formalize esports as a mainstay of higher education.

Additional Authors

Dr. Byrne, Andrew, California Polytechnic State University