DSI Esports Symposium | Playing Like An Asian: Race, Gender, & Athleticism in Esports

How can people make a living out of playing video games? Who would want to watch them? And why?

Esports — video gaming as a spectator sport — currently boasts an estimated global viewership of 500 million and an annual revenue of over US$1 billion. This talk examines esports' perceived novelty through the lens of its history and popularity in East Asia, particularly South Korea and China. East Asian players continue to profoundly dominate today’s global esports scene, even while the video games that they excel at are American-made. The drama (and the profitability) of this global virtual competition depends on a potent set of fantasies about race, gender, national identity, and ideal "sportsmanship." Esports both interrupts and reproduces stereotypes of Asian and Asian American men as unathletic, nerdy, “cheap,” hyper-competitive Others. This talk argues that the continued success of global esports ultimately depends on a toxic set of "mini-games" which bring together old and new modes of inter-racial competition, ideas of masculinity and athleticism, and American nationalism against the backdrop of a rising China.

Tara Fickle is Associate Professor of Asian American Studies at Northwestern University. Her first book, The Race Card: From Gaming Technologies to Model Minorities, (NYU Press, 2019, winner of Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award), explores how games have been used to establish and combat Asian and Asian American racial stereotypes. Fickle’s current research projects include the racialized dimensions of esports, virtual currency harvesting in video games, and a digital archive of the canonical Asian American anthology, Aiiieeeee! More information can be found at tarafickle.com.  

We want to make our events accessible to all participants. CART services will be provided. If you anticipate needing accommodations to participate, please email Eric Mancini at dsi-administration@umich.edu. Please note that some accommodations must be arranged in advance and we encourage you to contact us as soon as possible.

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LSA Building (LSA Room 1040 (Multipurpose Room))
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