The E-Athlete Comes of Age
As E-sports evolves, both as a virtual playing field and recognized sport, key design considerations must focus on transforming the perception of not only the games themselves, but also the physical equipment that enables this new type of athlete to elevate their practice to one of professional competitive performance—basically, what was once a toy, is now performance enhancing equipment.
The transition towards designing to communicate performance is not exclusive to gaming and has coincided with the competitive growth of many sports. In basketball we saw Converse’s aesthetics fall out of favor as Nike rose to popularity. Motorcycles began as loud, bright forms that have largely graduated to sleeker, racing aesthetics. Similarly, a shift away from the gaudiness of RGB keyboards in gaming has created designs that are aesthetically minimal, sophisticated and functional.
We see this as a natural graduation from a recreational hobby to professional competition. Physically emphasized attributes that were once commonplace are now seen as novelties, creating the need for designs that are streamlined, lightweight and geared towards elevating the athletes’ performance. To get there, an emphasis must be placed on form, weight, materiality and tech integration of all equipment in a holistic manner—from the gaming chair, to the mouse, the keyboard and the entire gaming ecosystem.
A Unique Design Challenge
Unlike the NBA, where the average height of a player is 6’7” and a common physical reality exists across the league, Esports does not have this homogenization of form. Instead, there is a vast range of possible body types and physical abilities. This highlights the need for developing products that fit the requirements of a diverse and growing consumer base.
Within the Esports space, design can provide opportunities to break away from standardized formats and focus on the needs of the athlete. Up to this point, the keyboard has been in a fairly fixed state—evolving from the original analog setup of the typewriter system. However, moving forward, there’s no reason why computer peripherals should not be redesigned around these new use cases.
A paradox of product design is the desire to use the highest quality material versus communicating its benefits. Ultimately, communication drives perception, and in the case of lightweighting, there is a discussion to be had around the balance between using the lightest material available versus using design elements—like lines or cut-outs—to communicate the lightness and swiftness of gaming tools.
When thinking about the future of E-sports, we can look beyond the industry itself, and draws upon key insights across industries. From the earliest tech created for video games like Tron and Atari, to the automotive industry, professional and Olympic athletes and the NBA, cross-disciplinary analysis can be used as inspiration for designs that will meet the rising needs of the digital athlete. Creating boundaries that enable both superior functionality and subjective beauty is a major consideration.