“Which Lane Should I Play?”: Team Adaptability in
Esports Teams

Research Track

10/08/20, 12:30PM - 1:00PM PT

About the Presentation

Teams have been used as one primary tool to help organizations to operate effectively in complex and dynamic environments. The better and faster a team adapts in response to changes or disruptions, the more effectively the team can function continuously and consistently (Burke, Pierce, & Salas, 2006; Maynard, Kennedy, & Sommer, 2015). A growing number of studies aim to understand how temporary teams of strangers would function in virtual gaming environments (Kou & Gui, 2014). The fast-changing nature of the online game environment demands a higher level of adaptability than traditional organizational contexts do. More importantly, the adaptability of teams playing video games oftentimes determines their success or failure, especially for the types of teams that play competitively and professionally, commonly referred to as esports teams (Resick et al., 2010).

We ground our work in three important lanes of research. First, studies have shown that the more adaptive a team is, the more likely the team will be successful (DeChurch & Haas, 2008; Gibson & Birkinshaw, 2004; LePine, 2003, 2005). Second, examining how teams adapt from a process perspective, prior work has also argued that team adaptation is a multilevel and multiphasic process and teams may engage in multiple adaptation processes simultaneously (Burke, Stagl, Salas, Pierce, & Kendall, 2006; Marks et al., 2001). Lastly, team research shows that the nature of a team environment, such as uncertainty (Milliken, 1987) or volatility (Gibson & Dibble, 2013), can influence team performance. While teams can perform better if they adapt, reflect, and learn their lessons during the process, overwhelming amount of uncertainty can also be detrimental to teams. Thus, we hypothesize that (a) there is a positive relationship between team adaptability and team performance; (b) teams with higher adaptability have a more diverse adaptation process when facing diverse adaptation stimuli; and (c) there is a curvilinear relationship between environment volatility and team adaptability.

To test these hypotheses, we propose a mixed methods study with a convergent design to examine team adaptability in esports teams, using League of Legends (LoL) as an example (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2018). We will first conduct semi-structured interviews with LoL esports team members to gain an in-depth understanding of team adaptability in the esports context. Then, larger-scale survey data will be collected from esports team members to formally test the study hypotheses.

The proposed study provides several important contributions. First, it addresses the issue of team adaptability in a novel but increasingly common context. Esports teams compete in virtual environments using physical technological equipment. This provides an opportunity to capture both the material and the virtual aspects of adaptability. Second, esports teams bridge virtual teams and high-reliability teams (Burtscher, Meyer, Jonas, Feese, & Tröster, 2018). While esports teams operate in primarily a virtual environment, they also demand high reliability where every decision that team members make matters in a competitive video game. From a practical perspective, understanding how esports teams adapt to its environment will help the teams process disruptive events effectively and carry out necessary adaptive action.

Chengyu Fang

Graduate Teaching Assistant, UC Santa Barbara

Chengyu Fang received an MA in Communication from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Chengyu's research focuses on issues related to knowledge sharing, technology, and collaboration in various small group and organizational contexts such as legal work, esports teams, and task teams in laboratory experiments. Fang is currently involved in a few projects examining 1) how AI impact various aspects of legal research and 2) how AI disrupts processes such team learning. In free time, Chengyu loves to read, cook, play video games, and spend time with friends and family.

Young Ji Kim

Assistant Professor in Communication, UC Santa Barbara

Young Ji Kim received her PhD in communication from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California. Her research examines group collaboration; collective intelligence; and the social and organizational implications of technologies, with particular emphasis on online credibility, computer-supported cooperative work, and crowdsourcing. She is currently exploring factors that make groups collectively intelligent, and ways in which human and machine intelligence can be combined to enhance collective intelligence.

Prior to joining UCSB, Young Ji worked as a postdoctoral associate at the Center for Collective Intelligence of the MIT Sloan School of Management. She has won several top paper awards for her research from the International Communication Association, the National Communication Association, and the Academy of Management. She has also received a university-wide service award from UCSB and a university-wide teaching award while at USC.