Katherine Alexander
A digital marketer that supports clients by practicing design-thinking to understand the customer experience.
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Verizon + eSports

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UWaterloo MDEI Capstone x Verizon

As a part of the Masters of Digital Experience Innovation program at the University of Waterloo, students are paired with an industry partner to work on a design challenge. I was in the group that was paired with Verizon Open Innovation in the summer of 2018. Our project was open ended in that Verizon wanted to profit off of two things they knew to be true:
1. They had 5G technology.
2. eSports is a rapidly expanding industry.

 

How might we create a new concept for Verizon that is enabled by the new 5g technology and will “wow” eSports gamers in a way that is not possible through the current technology?

 

This four month long project could be summarized in six parts: initial open-ended research, four test and learn design sprints, and a final design sprint. Our design sprints consisted of rapid research around ‘How might we…’ (HMW) questions, lo-fi prototype development and testing, and a weekly report with our insights.

My Group consisted of five members: Alicia Chin, Erica Dalphy, Noha Al-Lababidi, Kayla Zawiski, and myself. Our main point of contact was with Joshua Ness at Verizon Open Innovation.

Initial Open-Ended Research

As five women who knew nothing about eSports, we decided to use this to our advantage and build ourselves a “big picture” before asking any specific questions. Through primary (through interviews with male and female gamers, eSports competitors, and a CEO of a VR gaming company) and secondary research, we found out the following:

  • eSports is competitive gaming at a professional level and 5G will support a new generation of application software. 5G will require redesign of almost all application softwares.

  • Motivations around gaming revolve around socialization/community, competition, self-achievement, relaxation, escapism, and for entertainment

  • Many gamers play on their computer/PC but there are exceptions such as with Pokemon Go

  • Story and good content is king for gamers

  • Coaching is important for gamers, and there can be high costs to going pro

  • Games as a Service (GaaS) is an emerging industry, but streaming is a concern because of lag

  • University level gaming is expected to surpass football in terms of number of schools participating by 2020

  • Multiplayer is a huge aspect of successful games, tying back to socialization/community as a motivation

Design Sprint 1: Integrating Mobile Into Gaming

We tackled three HMW questions:

  • HMW develop a gesture based control system that allows for mobile to be used for gameplay?

  • HMW make a mobile device more “clickable” like a button and less like a touch screen?

  • HMW integrate already existing mobile gamers into the PC gaming experience?

What we learned:

  • User-tests showed that there is great interest in mobile use within gaming

  • However, there is concern around screen sensitivity, processing power, and battery life

Design Sprint 3: Games as a Service

We tackled three HMW questions:

  • HMW create a subscription model that gamers will actually benefit from?

  • HMW create a more “shareable” subscription service without jeopardizing individuals?

  • HMW provide additional services to eSports players to encourage them to switch to GaaS?

What we learned:

  • Gamers are extremely weary of GaaS

  • Extreme disinterest in having access to a large database of games as gamers do their research on games before buying, and then play for an extended period of time. They feel they receive the value for their money under the current model, and do not feel this would be the case for GaaS.

Design Sprint 2: Virtualizing the eSports Gaming Experience

We tackled three HMW questions:

  • HMW help gamers who aren’t supposed to have the same resources (coaching, psychologist, physiotherapist, etc) as sponsored gamers?

  • HMW assist with minor league tournaments that are more remote?

  • HMW encourage a sense of professionalism amongst gamers in online communications?

What we learned:

  • Reality eSports TV would be entertaining

  • Having a centralized, real place to bond for eSports team is important to bond

  • Coaching services on an app for eSports seems gimmicky, but would depend on execution

Design Sprint 4: eSports + Education

We tackled one HMW question:

  • HMW get universities to buy into the gaming industry a step further that simply supporting a team?

What we learned:

  • Positive reception to universities being more involved in the gaming industry from both industry professional and gamers alike

  • Spaces are an issue for gamers on university campuses, so this is an area of interest that would also make it seem like companies care for the industry more than profits

  • Gaming development spaces would be a big attraction for recruitment and academic research

Final Design Sprint: Gaming On-the-Go Rewards

At the start of this design sprint, we knew we had a general understanding of the gaming industry, eSports, and that the secret to success for Verizon was somewhere within the trends of tribalism, network mobility, and multi-platform gaming. From here, we made a list of assumption, identified possible user groups/stakeholders, and ideated to create a concept that included all three key areas.

Our Pitch
The concept we came with utilizes the already existing Verizon app, is dependent on 5G technology and includes eSports while encompassing the three key aspects mentioned above.

Testing
We tested this prototype on nine people. Gamers seemed enthusiastic about a feature from their service provider targeted specifically toward them. They liked the idea of getting gaming rewards for things they were already doing. However, Verizon did not thing there was enough of a 5G case, and they wanted a more real-time gaming experience.

Pivot
So we pivoted to creating a gaming on-the-go rewards program that would work real-time to deliver targeted offers to Verizon users where they would receive a time-sensitive, micro-gaming experience that, once one, provides them with in-game rewards.

Summary

After four months of research and five design sprints we know that it is critical that if Verizon is to succeed in entering the eSports space, they must build an experience built on evolving user needs and take advantage of their advanced tech capabilities to improve the industry in a meaningful way.

We recommended that Verizon proceed with a feasibility study to find out if our ‘gaming on-the-go’ rewards concept is possible and worth the investment. Other ideas worth pursuing is a concept developed in sprint 2: The Verizon Training Ground and a concept developed in sprint 4: The Gaming Innovation Lab.

I would like to thank the University of Waterloo, Verizon, Joshua Ness and of course my teammates for the opportunity to complete this project. This was a massive undertaking that required countless hours of work and an excitement to truly understand user needs and design around them. I hope that this research has proved to be valuable and impact the future of eSports and 5G technology.