By Kara McMurray, College of Education

PULLMAN, Wash. – If a couple of fellow students had not been goofing off in a class that Hank Evans was taking as a prerequisite in his master’s program at Washington State University, he may not have become interested in his latest research topic.

Calling it a “passion project,” Evans described that he and his advisor, Yong Chae Rhee, became interested in studying eSports when he saw some students spending their time during class secretly watching eSports on a laptop.

“I became curious about why people watch and play eSports,” Evans said. “I didn’t understand it.”

That curiosity led to research, and that research has now led to the award for the best student research paper at the Sport Entertainment Venues of Tomorrow (SEVT) conference, an award normally reserved for doctorate-level students. Evans is studying for his masters in sport management and is set to graduate in May.

Momentum plus passion

“I think I got lucky,” Evans said of the award. “The area I was researching is a really hot topic right now, so I think it had momentum behind it. Also, it’s a passion project, and when you can take that into it, the quality of the work is a little higher.”

When Evans decided to submit his paper to the conference, he didn’t set his hopes high, but at least aimed to be able to present.

“I thought, ‘if I can even do a presentation, it would be a big deal.’ To be a finalist and to be able to present, that took me off guard,” he said. “The research got a lot more serious then. It was the first time anyone in our department had gone for an award like that.”

What motivates eSports enthusiasts

The research largely centered around why people watch and play eSports, and focus groups were convened to learn what motivates people to watch or not to watch eSports.

“eSports is a growing field. Traditionalists don’t look at it much, but the younger crowd is interested it,” Evans said. “Kids don’t play baseball outside anymore.”

Evans said he has come to learn that eSports is “a lot like a traditional sport,” except that it is available all day, every day. He has also learned that there are a lot of parallels between eSports and traditional sports.

Promising future

“I didn’t have high hopes for it when I came in, but I’d really like to continue doing the research,” he said. “I think getting in now would be like buying into early Apple.”

Predicting that eSports will be a future Olympic sport, Evans said the research he and Rhee have conducted is the front running research in the field right now. He said he’s excited to see where the research goes, as well as where the sport goes.

“I don’t think it will ever totally replace sports, but I’m calling it now. In 2024, we’re definitely going to see it in the Olympics for sure. I think by 2022, but I think 2024 is the safer bet.”

Evans said he is working on writing the research into an article that he hopes becomes widespread.

“It’s going places,” he said. “This is going to be my ‘hello world’ moment.”



  • Brandon Chapman, communications director, College of Education, 509‑335‑6850,