There is a place, in the United States, where employees participate in different matches, similar to corporate softball games, or soccer if we want to make a comparison with Italy, in which, however, the protagonists are video games. It is not difficult to hear phrases such as “Amazon launches a Zerg assault on Facebook”, or “Microsoft crashes into Capital One with a perfect D.Va ultimate”. A normal day in the CEA, Corporate Esports Association, an organization that allows employees of various companies to compete on various competitive titles by representing their company, exactly like professional players do with their team.
Gregory Leporati tells this interesting and perhaps still too atypical reality in the Washington Post. “Imagine playing League of Legends, Valorant, or Overwatch with your co-workers”, Brad Tenenholtz, co-founder of CEA, told Leporati. “You are forced to communicate perfectly with your colleagues, or you will be left behind.“The CEA hosts several esports tournaments, including seasonal ones, pitting employees of different companies against each other. For Tenenhotlz it is one of the best ways to improve team building in large companies: instead of personality tests or the classic game of trust, work colleagues build bonds and connections thanks to titles like League of Legends or Rocket League.
It goes without saying that with Covid-19, and with more and more employees invited to work from home in smart-working, the CEA was hugely successful in 2020 with more than 150 different companies who took part in tournaments. Including giants like Walmart, IBM, General Motors and Amazon: “More and more companies are realizing that competitive gaming is an activity with serious and prolific added value”, Continues to tell Tenenholtz. But how can esports have a positive impact on productivity and work synergy?
Michael Flores is the manager client technical at IBM. But he is also the one who manages the gaming community within the company. P.For him the main impact of esports is very simple: it shows how the relationship between colleagues in the team context works. “If a League of Legends game doesn’t go well, you’ll immediately start thinking about what your teammates did wrong and what you could have done better. Many of my colleagues did not immediately understand this, but over time they began to ask themselves, ‘How can I help improve others instead of always thinking about me?’ So they began to appreciate everyone’s individual abilities and figure out how to maximize them for the good of all.“
Flores founded the corporate esports group seven years ago, with the aim of meeting new colleagues and exploring the connections between the world of gaming and work. IBM offered some stamina initially, but today the corporate community boasts more than 500 members. And competing has also become a way to more easily enter company dynamics, as happened to Alex Mieczkowski, junior software engineer who started working at IBM shortly before the outbreak of the pandemic: “Especially during Covid, esports helped me to maintain bonds and build new friendships.“Despite working from North Carolina, Alex now has a great friendship with a colleague in Ontario, Canada, thanks to their presence together on IBM’s Valorant team:”We talk practically every day now: it could never have happened without the gaming community.“
Same goes for Joshua Rowell, Walmart’s product manager and head of the corporate esports group. “I’ve seen people take over 30 minutes to make a business email. Yet when you are on Overwatch or League of Legends you don’t have time to stop and think. It is also in this way that esports teaches to be friendly and respectful but concise.Rowell created Walmart’s esports section five years ago, thanks in part to the support of the company’s CIO. Today it has more than 700 members spread across the headquarters and the various distribution points.
As well as for personal communication, according to Rowell esports are also useful for identifying potential managers and finding leadership qualities, or other soft skills, in their employees. Maybe even when they themselves don’t think they have them. Rowell herself suggested promotions for some employees after observing their performance as captains of various esports teams. “Such envidos are phenomenal in guiding people in the game, but have never thought about applying the same principles at work. Our job is also to show them how to transfer these skills into everyday life.“
Companies are supportive, employees have fun and at the same time grow professionally. But the final question that Leporati asks is: is it a trend or will it last over time? The answer comes from Edward Sullivan, CEO of Velocity Group, a company that welcomes important coaches in various fields, and which boasts companies such as Salesforce, Google and Slack as clients: “I don’t see esports or other forms of digital team building as a fad. However, I believe that to achieve even better results it is necessary to prefer richer forms of interaction. There is something more when you walk, you use your hands: a different kind of energy that pervades your body.“
According to Denise Rousseau, a professor of organizational behavior at Carnegie Mellon University, the question is different: not so much whether esports can be used to improve team building as how to use them correctly. “At the moment, companies are using esports to promote synergy and group cohesion, which is a superficial goal but not to be underestimated. There are numerous researches that affirm, moreover, that it is not the exercise in itself relevant, but the reflections that arise subsequently.“
Ultimately if companies want people to think and act differently, reflection is the most critical and important part. Winning or competing is not enough to arrive at the most efficient result: each game must be a tool to analyze oneself and others, reflect on mistakes and on how some actions could have been better managed.