This week, the Washington Post had an interesting story about large companies turning to esports to strengthen teams and increase productivity. This approach can be better than than the physical sports often used for teambuilding, improving trust between employees, and boosting productivity. While this benefit is particularly pronounced during the pandemic, the benefits could extend to when we aren’t stuck at home.
This practice is becoming so popular that there is now a formal Corporate Esports Association that handles the games much as company baseball, football, and basketball teams are handled, making them a regular part of employees’ work/life balance.
Let’s discuss why esports may be better than regular sports for team building during a pandemic or in more normal times.
During the pandemic
You really can’t play regular sports during a pandemic. The risks of infection are high and employees live farther apart now, making participation problematic. The camaraderie, trust, loyalty, and team growth that arise from playing on a company team are essential; the relationships built up during competition tend to carry over into a company’s operations by strengthening employee relationships.
Those connections provide employees with peers they’re more comfortable calling on for help. (This last is important because the isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic can lead to depression and increases the potential for suicide.) And this is where eSports are making a difference. Because activities can be done by employees worldwide, they can provide some of the social benefits of regular sports but across larger geographic areas. You can play and chat about what you are going through, share stories, and if you notice someone being extra quiet or quick to anger, ask and perhaps, identify, what’s going — and help a stressed-out co-worker get timely help.
After the pandemic
I once played on a company volleyball team but had to stop after I injured another player. While real-life sports do have substantial physical benefits, they also carry risks, including injury and the inability to create diverse teams. If you have large and small people playing contact sports, the smaller players will likely attract the most injuries and related animosity. Women are also often left out, which can adversely impact careers, reinforce misogynistic behavior, and create resentment.
You will also find with physical sports that there are people in and out of shape who participate in all age categories. But more senior players, or those not in good shape, sometimes resent younger players and those in better shape. (I expect golf is so prevalent in companies because it can be reasonably played without being in great shape or young.)
With esports, men and women can play as peers and as part of teams that take the focus of individual players; Leeroy Jenkins aside, you get most of the team building benefit, but far less of the risk that comes with physical sports. And done right, it can also allow management to re-channel energy that might otherwise go into social media and unwanted viral posts.
The use of esports as a replacement for physical sports for teambuilding is being explored worldwide and is becoming critical to healthy teams in the companies participating. It gives a more diverse group of people the ability to connect geographically, something that will be a positive, even after the pandemic isolation subsides.
Having played on video game teams in the past, I’ve found it a great way to get to know other players, meet and befriend folks in other parts of the world, and work off frustrations by completing missions and blowing stuff up virtually. That last can be pretty cathartic after a tough week.
The downside, of course, is less exercise. But, I expect, future esports solutions that use 3D treadmills or connected physical interfaces to eventually address that lack of cardio. Even with cardio benefits, though, an esports effort gives employees the opportunity to improve productivity and have fun with folks you may only see on Zoom.
Stay safe, and here’s hoping there’s no Leroy Jenkins on your team.