Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Kinesiology and Sport Studies

Major Professor

Craig A. Wrisberg

Committee Members

Lars Dzikus, Jeffrey T. Fairbrother, Sandra P. Thomas


Increased interest in video games has led to the emergence of competitive video game leagues and organizations known as e-Sport (Hutchins, 2008; Wagner, 2006). Much of the research on video games has focused on negative aspects of gamers’ behavior, such as aggression (Ferguson, 2007) and addiction (Kuss & Griffiths, 2012). The majority of studies have examined video game performance from a third-person perspective using video analysis (Reeves, Brown, & Laurier, 2009) or behavioral observation when examining high-level video game play (Jansz & Martens, 2005). Prior to the present study, there had been very little attention devoted to gamers’ experience of playing video games in the competitive tournament setting and presence of an evaluative audience. Research in sport psychology has demonstrated the challenges associated with performance in front of spectators (Beilock & Gray, 2007; Schmidt & Wrisberg, 2008). Thus, it might be assumed that the added presence of others at video game tournaments would create a competitive experience that is similar to that of athletes in traditional sports. Therefore, the purpose of the present study was to investigate the lived experience of cyberathletes (gamers) during video game tournaments. Existential phenomenological interviews were conducted with twelve co-participants who had recently competed in a video game tournament. Qualitative analysis revealed a thematic structure consisting of three distinct contexts – video game world, tournament world, playing world – and four figural or major themes – real life event, comrades and competitors, respect and maturity, and from cutthroat to good time – that captured the essential elements of the these cyberathletes’ tournament experience. A fifth major theme – committed investment – was not immediate to the tournament experience, but contained elements that were related to the tournament setting. It was concluded that for the video gamers in this study, meeting and interacting other serious gamers was the most significant aspect of the tournament experience. In addition, the results revealed a number of fundamental challenges for video game tournament competitors that are similar to those confronted by athletes in most traditional sports (e.g., pre-event anxiety, distractions, and the need for competitors to maintain focus and composure under pressure).

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