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Articles by Loughborough academics featured on The Conversation

Fortnite World Cup and the rise of the esports industry

Kyle Giersdorf, or Bugha to give him his game name, is US$3m better off after winning the 2019 Fortnite world cup. The American teenager took home the largest-ever payout for a single player in an esports tournament. His win reflects the growing popularity of the game and the power of the esports market. British teenager Jaden Ashman shared US$2.25m with his teammate as the runners-up in the doubles competition.

The finals, at the end of July, followed ten weeks of competition involving more than 40m competitors and a total prize pot of over US$30m. The tournament packed out the 23,771-seat Arthur Ashe stadium at Flushing Meadows, New York’s largest tennis arena.

Fortnite Battle Royale is emerging as one of the most popular computer games with an estimated 250m players around the world. Essentially, it is a First-Person Shooter game (FPS) where players fight to survive in a battle against other human players. Unlike some other games in this genre, such as PUBG or Counter-Strike, its graphics are cartoonish, which means parents of teenage players are less likely to object to the content – it doesn’t look violent of feature excessive blood, bullets and bombs.

Fortnite is rising to prominence in an increasingly lucrative market. Out of 7.6 billion people on the planet, there are approximately 2.2 billion gamers. This includes social gaming, mobile gaming, as well as free-to-play and pay-to-play multiplayer gaming. Of these players, there are about 380m esports viewer fans – 165m of them regular viewers and 215m occasionals.

Epic Games, publisher of Fortnite, attracts players by making the game itself free to play. But they also sell “V-Bucks” to the players, which cost US$9.99 per 1,000 and can be spent on a variety of customisation and enhancements for players’ characters.

Evolution of esports titles’ popularity, breakdown by searches in Google, 2004-present. Google Trends, 2019b, Author provided

None of these influence the actual performance of the character in the battle – accuracy and pace still depend on the skill of the individual competitor. This is similar to most esports titles. But according to research firm Superdata, between its release in July 2017 and May 2018 Fortnite netted US$1.2 billion in revenue.

Competitive edge

So what exactly are esports? They are defined as competitive tournaments involving electronic games – especially among professionals. Players compete in leagues or play for an audience on a live-streaming service in exchange for payment, which can range to several million dollars for the most successful players.

Top players and teams are well remunerated. Forbes reported that the “average starting North America League of Legends Championship Series (NA LCS) player salary is now over US$320,000, with over 70% of the players performing on multi-year contracts”. An article in Business Insider in 2018 reveals that top teams such as Evil Geniuses earn more than US$10m a year in revenue. This is almost the same budget as a top second division team from La Liga, in Spain.

The recent Fortnite world cup had a total prize pool of US$33m and, as we have heard, the top winners took away several million each. Even players who ranked as lowly as 65-108 took away US$50,000 for their pains.

When it comes to training for competition, you could be forgiven for thinking that esports players are not like traditional athletes, building strength and endurance over long hours in the gym or pounding the streets. But, as the growth in prize money means the potential rewards for success grow ever larger, a new generation of esports professionals is finding that fitness aids concentration. Some of the more successful teams are even drafting in coaches from other sports.

I have connected with several teams and, even in those with low budgets, they are aware of the importance of their physical and mental well-being through nutrition and exercise to perform better in games.

What’s next?

Esports look to be here to stay, but the degree of success will depend on a variety of factors, including general entertainment trends, industry governance and the possibility of government censorship in certain regions. To help the various players in the market understand consumers better and react proactively to changes in the business environment, it is essential to highlight the critical value of esports data – something that I have been researching for some time.

The huge and rapid growth of esports – and the massive revenues this promises – are thought by many industry insiders to be indicative of a bubble. Commenting on headlines which implied that gaming tournaments were “bigger than the Superbowl”, Sebastian Park, vice-president of esports with the Houston Rockets (which owns a majority stake in professional League of Legends team Clutch Gaming) said recently: “When I read a lot of these papers, I don’t know where they derive 50% of those numbers”.

For the health of the industry, it’s critical to be able to establish how different esports industry stakeholders are collecting data and information from the fans to understand their behaviour and consumer trends. There has been speculation that Nielsen, which has been collecting data on TV viewing since the 1950s, is working on a solution. This could be the next big step in establishing esports credibility.

The Conversation

Federico Winer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Return to the moon? 3D printing with moondust could be the key to future lunar living

Laser Zentrum Hannover is also looking at lunar 3D printing. LZH

The entire Apollo 11 mission to the moon took just eight days. If we ever want to build permanent bases on the moon, or perhaps even Mars or beyond, then future astronauts will have to spend many more days, months and maybe even years in space without a constant lifeline to Earth. The question is how would they get hold of everything they needed. Using rockets to send all the equipment and supplies for building and maintaining long-term settlements on the moon would be hugely expensive.

This is where 3D printing could come in, allowing astronauts to construct whatever their lunar colony needed from raw materials. Much of the excitement around 3D printing in space has focused on using it to construct buildings from lunar rock. But my research suggests it may actually be more practical to use this moondust to supply lunar manufacturing labs turning out replacement components for all sorts of equipment.

Technically known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing comprises a sophisticated group of technologies that can produce physical products of almost any shape or geometrical complexity from digital designs. The technology can already make things from a huge palette of materials including metals, ceramics and plastics, some of which can be used to make space-grade equipment.

3D printing with moondust. Thanos Goulas, Author provided

3D printing also has the added benefit of working with minimal human involvement. You can just set it to print and wait for the finished product. This means it can even be operated remotely. In theory, you could send a 3D printer to the moon (or any other space destination) ahead of a human crew and it could start manufacturing structures before the astronauts even arrived.

There are, of course, significant challenges. 3D printing has primarily been developed for use on Earth, relying on certain consistent levels of gravity and temperature to operate as designed. So far it uses materials significantly less complex than those found on the surface of the moon or Mars.

Printing with moondust

The moon is covered in regolith, a loose, powdery material formed from millions of years of meteors bombarding the moon’s surface. This has slowly transformed the top layers of bedrock into a soil-like material made from grains less than a few millimetres across. While you could in theory use regolith for additive manufacturin, for 3D-printed houses or even more basic components such as bricks and cement you would need additional materials from Earth to mix with the regolith such as liquid binders.

My colleagues and I have been looking into ways you could 3D print a range of engineering components using only regolith. Our technique involves using a laser to turn a very small amount of energy into heat that can melt and fuse together grains of regolith to form a thin but solid slice of the material. By repeating this process multiple times and adding more layers in sequence, we can eventually build a three-dimensional object.

Small components could be made quickly and without other materials. Thanos Goulas, Author provided

Each layer is than 1mm in thickness and so building large structures such as walls or complete shelters would take an impractical amount of time. Instead, it’s much better for producing smaller, precisely designed highly detailed objects such as dust or water filters, which typically need holes of less than a micron (0.001 mm). 3D printing would be particularly useful for replicating vital components if they were to become damaged or worn, and needed replacing faster than it would take a supply ship to bring a new one from Earth.

To figure out how to get this 3D printing to work in space, we’ve carried out in-depth investigations into both the material and the processes, and tried to understand how the conditions on the moon would likely impact them. Without a ready supply of real regolith, we used a material that imitates its bulk chemical and mineral composition. This was formed under very different conditions to a meteor bombardment, but it’s complex enough for us to study its interaction with the laser and use that knowledge to estimate how real regolith would react.


Read more: To the moon and beyond 1: What we learned from landing on the moon and why we stopped going


We still need to better understand the material and its interaction with the 3D printing process, and engineer novel technical solutions to overcome any limitations. At this stage, it’s even hard for us to know what kinds of things might go wrong. But a good next step would be to test 3D printing with real regolith. Existing samples on Earth are very limited, but with humanity poised to enter a new era of lunar activity, perhaps a ready supply could soon become available.

The Conversation

Thanos Goulas does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Heatwave: think it's hot in Europe? The human body is already close to thermal limits elsewhere

Average global temperature from 2013 to 2017, as compared to 1951–1980 baseline. NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio

I am a scientist who researches climate hazards. This week I have published research on the potential for a catastrophic cyclone-heatwave combo in the global south. Yet over the past few days I have been approached by various media outlets to talk not about that hazard, but about the unfolding UK heatwave and climate change. It is always satisfying to respond to public interest around weather extremes, but there is a danger that key messages about extreme heat globally are not receiving enough airtime.

It is by now very well established that hot extremes are more likely in the changed climate we are living in. Yet there is a seemingly unquenchable thirst for this story to be retold every time the UK sweats. Narratives around such acute, local events detract from critical messages about the global challenges from extreme heat.

Make no mistake, maximum temperatures of 35°C or more are hot by UK standards, but such conditions are familiar to around 80% of the world’s population. The headline-grabbing 46°C recently experienced by Britain’s neighbours in France is indeed unusual, but still falls short of the 50°C recorded in India earlier this summer, and is somewhat temperate relative to the 54°C confirmed for both Pakistan (in 2017) and Kuwait (in 2016). People in these hotter climates are better at coping with high temperatures, yet such heat still kills.

Deadly heatwaves are, of course, no stranger to Europeans. The infamous 2003 event claimed as many as 70,000 lives, and 2010 saw more than 50,000 fatalities in western Russia. Fortunately, lessons were learned and authorities are now much better prepared when heat-health alerts are issued.

But spare a thought for less fortunate communities who are routinely experiencing extraordinary temperatures. In places like South Asia and the Persian Gulf, the human body, despite all its remarkable thermal efficiencies, is often operating close to its limits.

And yes, there is a limit.

When the air temperature exceeds 35°C, the body relies on the evaporation of water – mainly through sweating – to keep core temperature at a safe level. This system works until the “wetbulb” temperature reaches 35°C. The wetbulb temperature includes the cooling effect of water evaporating from the thermometer, and so is normally much lower than the normal (“drybulb”) temperature reported in weather forecasts.

Once this wetbulb temperature threshold is crossed, the air is so full of water vapour that sweat no longer evaporates. Without the means to dissipate heat, our core temperature rises, irrespective of how much water we drink, how much shade we seek, or how much rest we take. Without respite, death follows – soonest for the very young, elderly or those with pre-existing medical conditions.

Wetbulb temperatures of 35°C have not yet been widely reported, but there is some evidence that they are starting to occur in Southwest Asia. Climate change then offers the prospect that some of the most densely populated regions on Earth could pass this threshold by the end of the century, with the Persian Gulf, South Asia, and most recently the North China Plain on the front line. These regions are, together, home to billions of people.

Beijing, on the northern edge of the North China Plain, set a new temperature record in 2018. maoyunping / shutterstock

As the climate warms in places like the UK, people can take sensible precautions against heat – slowing down, drinking more water, and seeking cool refuges. Air conditioning is one of the last lines of defence but comes with its own problems such as very high energy demands. By 2050, cooling systems are expected to increase electricity demand by an amount equivalent to the present capacity of the US, EU, and Japan combined.

Provided that electricity supplies can be maintained, living in chronically heat-stressed climates of the future may be viable. But with such dependence on this life-support system, a sustained power outage could be catastrophic.

Deadly combination

So what would happen if we combined massive blackouts with extreme heat? Two colleagues and I recently investigated the possibility of such a “grey swan” event – foreseeable but not yet fully experienced – in a global study of storms and heat, published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

We looked at tropical cyclones, which have already caused the biggest blackouts on Earth, with the months-long power failure in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria among the most serious. We found that as the climate warms it becomes ever more likely that these powerful cyclones would be followed by dangerous heat, and that such compound hazards would be expected every year if global warming reaches 4°C. During the emergency response to a tropical cyclone, keeping people cool would have to be as much a priority as providing clean drinking water.

The UK is moving into new territory when it comes to managing extreme heat. But the places that are already heat stressed will see the largest absolute increases in humid-heat with the smallest safety margin before reaching physical limits, and they are often least-equipped to adapt to the hazard. It is therefore hardly surprising that extreme heat drives migration. Such mass displacement makes extreme heat a worldwide issue. Little Britain will feel the consequence of conditions far away from its temperate shores.

The challenges ahead are stark. Adaptation has its limits. We must therefore maintain our global perspective on heat and pursue a global response, slashing greenhouse gas emissions to keep to the Paris warming limits. In this way, we have the greatest chance of averting deadly heat – home and abroad.


Click here to subscribe to our climate action newsletter. Climate change is inevitable. Our response to it isn’t.

The Conversation

Tom Matthews does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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