The world of competitive gaming is incredibly popular and has mushroomed into a billion-dollar industry. In 2019, over five thousand tournaments were organized around the world with 28,000 players participating. And that's just the tournaments that are played for prize money. It is expected that gaming will gain even more popularity over the coming years. Nevertheless, many companies and institutions are not yet taking this trend seriously. This is not the case with the University of Twente.
When virtually all corporate sports competitions come to a halt during the COVID-19 pandemic, UT assistant professor Guido Bruinsma is surprised that Dutch companies are not focusing on gaming. "The esports movement is huge. In Sillicon Valley, tech giants like Google and Apple have been playing tournaments against each other since 2013, but in the Netherlands it wasn’t a thing yet. Whilst it’s a very robust, approachable and above all fun way of networking. Through gaming, you can do a nice double-take and connect people."
This is why Guido Bruinsma submitted a project proposal in March 2020 for the eSports Ladder: an online gaming and community platform where gamers - both students and employees - can connect with each other through gaming. It is a new way for the region to attract and retain talent. Two-and-a-half years later, the eSports Ladder is ready to be officially launched. And in the meantime, the ladder is now a start-up "with a very strong link to the University of Twente and Kennispark Twente," Bruinsma adds.
On the platform, competitions are organized, players’ performances are tracked through a dashboard, and players can challenge each other on behalf of the company or university that they are affiliated with. As such, the players have a sense of honor that they have to uphold. If gamers perform well, the organization that they are playing for also moves up in the leaderboards. Participants get to know each other through the games. A forum is also provided where gamers can post messages.
Social feed and dashboard of the eSports Ladder
The ladder helps facilitate competitions for different games, David Evers explains. As a student and project manager, he was involved in setting up the ladder. "You can play difficult and classic games in the ladder, such as League of Legends, but also games with an easier entry level, such as Blobby Volley [a volleyball game, ed.]. We are also keen to bring spectators in to watch the league. It’s interesting for them to see the results and follow their company or student team, for example."
Are students actually interested in this kind of ladder? "Absolutely," Evers assures us. "If you are able to connect with companies in this setting, it's really rewarding. It's a casual way to get to know new people."
According to Mark Bulthuis, co-founder and CTO at Little Rocket (an agency for data and business based in the Dutch city of Enschede), the business community is also enthusiastic. “We're firestarters, we want to help companies use data. So, we’re really interested in getting in contact with students. If you talk to people out of a mutual interest, then that might be enough for a click. Without them even having seen that person's CV. I think that's really healthy."
Bulthuis explains that posting a vacancy and then expecting to find the perfect candidate is no longer realistic these days. "With the tight labor market, that's a thing of the past. Whereas this is a very friendly way to make contact. What’s more, the platform is a great way to connect with other companies and students. We have already talked to other companies about setting up a competition and organizing a mini event. This lets us share knowledge in a relaxed, fun way." Little Rocket also plans to set up a competition in-house. "So, this has two advantages -we can offer our employees a way to have a bit of laidback fun and also the opportunity to forge connections with companies and students. Which makes it a very interesting concept."
The eSports Ladder is also a flag bearer for the research that is being carried out at UT surrounding eSports. The university is a pioneer in the field of gaming. For example, it has had an eSports lab since 2019, where researchers are looking at how the world of eSports can be professionalized and what applications are needed to achieve that. They do this by analysing both data from eSports players - reaction time, heart rate, insight - and the games themselves.
The large gaming community at UT all gets together at the gaming student association Blueshell Esports, among other places. The official UT Esports Team - Esports Team Twente (ETT) - is one of the flagships of the university. "They're doing extremely well, recently they became European champions of League of Legends," Bruinsma notes.
The introduction of the eSports Ladder took place during the WirWar festival, an offline event in the Grolsch Veste stadium of FC Twente, where gamers of different games will get to compete with each other under the watchful eye of colleagues, students and others who are interested.
Initially, the software will be made available to UT students and companies located on Kennispark Twente. The next step is to devise an umbrella competition for all science parks and innovation districts in the Netherlands. Bruinsma: "Ultimately, we hope to bring aboard bigger and bigger companies, including international ones. But we first want to make sure that we set it up properly at our own university and at Kennispark."
For Kennispark Twente, the initiative adds value to the community at the science park. Kennispark is one of the top ten campuses in the Netherlands, has the University of Twente as a major knowledge carrier, and considers it important to introduce talent to potential employers in Twente at an early stage. Connecting scientists, engineers and students within Twente's high-tech community is central to all the projects the area organization embraces. And the municipality of Enschede, home city of the University of Twente, in turn has a strong base in creative technology by origin. This initiative is a great example of that. "We really think the platform can contribute to a more intense relationship between students and companies in the region", Bruinsma concludes.