Esports & Sports Science - Andrew Novak
Dr Novak is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Human Performance Research Centre - UTS, as well as Sports Performance Scientist at Rugby Australia. Dr Novak is conducting research and developing data driven solutions in human performance (primarily collective team behaviours, skill acquisition, athlete monitoring and esports performance). As an industry-embedded researcher, Dr Novak collaborates with rugby coaching staff across Australia’s elite rugby programs as well as UTS academics. His work focuses on developing methods to analyse and interpret the complex interactions between physical, technical and tactical characteristics that underpin elite team performance.
Tell us a bit about your work in esports. What is your main area of interests, and what are you working on at the moment?
My work in esports has been as part of a group led by skill acquisition expert Dr Job Fransen based at the Human Performance Research Centre – University of Technology Sydney. Over the last few years we have worked closely with professional coaches and players (primarily at the Esports High Performance Centre), in League of Legends and Counter Strike: Global offensive.
Our main areas of interest are in the development of expertise, collective team behaviours, and ultimately understanding how esports players and teams perform. Myself and others in our group are actively working in practice with elite sports organisations, so we are very interested in how the learnings from this very similar human performance environment can be applied to understand and assist esports players/teams to improve their performance.
For example, some of our research involves investigating the perceptual-cognitive skills, perceptual-motor skills, and practice activities of professional esports players. We are also investigating how the in-game actions by players and teams can be utilised to inform performance analysis and to facilitate the coach-athlete feedback loop, as is common practice in elite sports. We have also applied some processes of athlete monitoring in a professional esports organisation, which is another common practice in professional sports teams which we believe would be useful.
How does your work contribute to esports and what impact do you aim to have on the industry?
Esports is a relatively young domain, particularly with respect to forming an evidence base and understanding how players develop expertise and perform successfully. We know that many players are spending incredible amounts of time practicing e.g. one of our PhD students Matthew Pluss recently conducted a 52-week study and reported an average of 31 hours per week of practice per player, with a large portion of this being competitive play. This is far more than the amount of time that a professional football player would spend training and playing competitively each week.
It is no wonder that esports careers are often so short with players often retiring from professional competition in their early twenties. Often players experience injuries caused by these excessive hours of practice. It is our belief that by improving our understanding of esports performance, we can inform the esports community on how to reduce hours and focus on high quality practice, thereby hopefully reducing injuries and burn-out and improving the longevity of esports players’ careers.
Why do you think sport science research is important for esports and how can the industry benefit from it?
The reason we believe sports science is so important is that it is quite similar but is supported by decades of rigorous research. I often see people getting caught up in the argument of whether esports players should be considered as “athletes” or not. I think this argument is totally irrelevant and not productive. There are many similarities beyond the surface level comparisons of physical exertion.
Esports players require incredible information processing skills, and motor skills. They require the ability to very rapidly identify relevant perceptual information within their environment, to combine this with their domain/game knowledge which is often very complex (e.g. knowing the abilities and cooldowns of hundreds of different characters which may change each time the game is updated every few weeks and every season), and to combine these pieces of information to formulate an effective action response. In addition, they require effective team communication skills to formulate collective responses to complex scenarios.
Beyond this, there is also the obvious use for strength and conditioning practitioners to assist with esports players who often suffer from injuries due to the large quantity of practice. All of these cases are similar to what we experience in the elite sports domain so I think it is an obvious connection for those in the elite sports domain to work closely with esports organisations to impart our knowledge and experience and help them to accelerate performance outcomes.