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ASU researchers team with HyperX to predict gamer performance under pressure

May 31, 2023

A professional esports player faces down international opponents in a video game championship. A radiologist examines hundreds of images from a patient’s CT scan. An aerospace engineer carefully sends instructions to a spacecraft as it navigates the stars.

On the line are millions of dollars, a patient’s life and irreplaceable scientific equipment. Yet one common threat puts all these at risk: The person at the screen is battling fatigue.

When working in front of a screen, a person’s attention rises and falls in a regular pattern. By tracking this pattern, a machine learning program can predict when someone’s performance is about to drop — before it happens. This early finding comes from an ongoing study at the adidas-ASU Center for Engagement Science.

The center, a partnership between Arizona State University and the athletic company adidas, focuses on understanding human behavior, perception and performance. While the research mostly aims to improve outcomes for athletes, it also has applications for other jobs where people work under pressure.

Taking data to the next level

The project that led to the center’s recent finding looks at measuring and predicting human performance in esports. HyperX, a company that develops products for gamers, teamed up with the center to figure out whether it’s possible to predict a player’s drop in performance using biometric data.

In the gaming world, players will eventually come to a point when their performance takes a downward spiral, known as tilt. Predicting it could one day lead to interventions that prevent it from ever happening.

“We figured out that we can actually predict tilt about 15 to 20 minutes before it occurs,” says Aurel Coza, director of the center. “Obviously for gamers it's super important, but then you can extrapolate that to any high-performance task that involves prolonged attention.”

HyperX sponsored the study and provided gaming products that are regularly used by professional gamers globally.

"Player well-being and performance are important to HyperX, and stress factors are important to observe and learn about to effectively manage tilt factors in gaming,” says Dustin Illingworth, head of culture marketing at HyperX. “Many benefits can come from the collaboration between ASU and HyperX, both in the gaming industry and for people who spend long periods of time in front of screens or monitors."

Coza leads a team of student researchers who spent six months gathering biometric data from 45 study participants in the center’s lab. The participants were all experienced gamers. For the study, they spent five to six hours playing one of three popular video games: League of Legends, Valorant or Call of Duty.

As they played, the team tracked participants’ heart rates, skin conductivity, eye movements and facial expressions using wristband health monitors and webcams. They also took note of their scores throughout each game.

The students then fed all the data into a machine learning algorithm that looked at the connections between players’ performance and their biometric data.

photo of a study participant's screen showing video game, player's face and player's biometric measurements

Biomedical engineering grad student Justin Irby was a study participant before he became a research assistant on the project. The team gathered data on gamers’ performance and biometric measurements, like facial expression, eye movement and heart rate. Image courtesy adidas-ASU Center for Engagement Science

The biometric data offered a way to measure the participants’ physical stress, emotional states and recurring cycles of overall fatigue and attention.

“Ironically, at first I was a participant,” says Justin Irby, another student researcher on the project who earned his master’s degree in biomedical engineering this May. “I knew a lot about video games, so I was able to advise on the project. Then for the data analysis stage, I got brought on as a research assistant and my focus was in areas of overtime trends and fatigue.”

The team found that no single biometric variable could point to players’ performance or fatigue cycles on its own. However, when the algorithm brought all the variables together, it revealed a pattern that clearly showed when tilt occurred and allowed the team to predict it before it happened.

“What was interesting was we got an accuracy of around 80% for all three games, when we actually thought it might come in around 50% or so,” says Karthikeyan Manikandan, a student researcher who graduated with a master’s in biomedical engineering in May and will begin his doctoral program at the University of Iowa this fall.

“It was a eureka moment for us,” adds Coza.

While some may think of video games as a casual pastime, gaming represents a growing, multibillion-dollar industry that touches many lives.

According to the Entertainment Software Association 2022 report, two-thirds of Americans across all ages play video games weekly. Additionally, professional esports players compete for millions of dollars in prize money, and world championship games attract millions of viewers from around the globe.

But Coza sees another area of potential for gamers.

“Esports has been overlooked as a serious topic of study. But when you think about it, it is the best place to actually study human behavior,” he says. Players are enthusiastic study subjects, and most of the biometric sensors are already housed in the machine they use to play.

“We see this as a massive platform for research,” Coza says.

While the team continues to examine and publish their data, they hope the project’s next big step will be a phase two with HyperX. This phase would focus on putting what they’ve learned into practice by exploring interventions that will prevent gamers from going into tilt.

“If a technology could predict the tilt beforehand, it could give a heads-up to the players and they could adjust themselves. That will be a very impactful thing in competitions. And players can also be trained in such a way that they won't actually go into the tilt,” says Krishna Suketh Madduri, a student researcher on the team and a biomedical engineering master’s student.

According to a National Skill Coalition 2023 report, 92% of U.S. jobs use digital technology. So not only would such interventions change the gaming industry for hobbyists and pros alike, they could also help those working in the health care field, in emerging industries like aerospace, or even in everyday office or learning environments — any context where people perform under constant pressure.

“The results are really broadly applicable, especially if we're talking about workplace performance,” Coza says. “Most jobs involve staring at a screen for hours a day. That's not much different, honestly, than any video game.”

Top photo illustration by Nathan Stetson.

Mikala Kass

Communications Specialist , ASU Knowledge Enterprise


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ASU leaders visit Egypt, United Arab Emirates to explore education opportunities in region

May 31, 2023

President Michael Crow and others from Arizona State University recently visited Cairo and Dubai and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, as part of efforts to scale higher education, attract more international students, and identify new partners and projects in the Middle East and North Africa.

During the trip, Crow and the ASU team met with several universities, reviewed an U.S. Agency for International Development-funded ASU project in Egypt, hosted alumni, had discussions with the minister of education in Egypt and four ministers of the UAE government, and visited the Thunderbird/ASU innovation center in Dubai.

“This was a memorable and thought-provoking trip to get a firsthand look at how ASU is engaging around the world — and to be reminded about the many more opportunities that still exist as we create new programs, new approaches and new pathways to learn,” Crow said.

ASU takes a global view, with students from 158 countries and more than 12,000 international students. But the trip made clear the expanding opportunities and the potential scale for more international students to attend ASU on campus and online; the growing offerings and reach of ASU Prep Digital also offer a means of engaging international students earlier in their high school education to allow them to transition to ASU.

“We have the opportunity to impact so many students and learners across Egypt, Africa and the Middle East,” Crow said.

A highlight was a visit to ASU’s USAID-funded Center of Excellence for Energy, which is working to accelerate Egypt's renewable energy transition. Crow said he enjoyed getting a “comprehensive look at the center and speaking with students there about their experiences at ASU.”

The trip also focused on the enhancement and establishment of long-term, institutional relationships in the region to further ASU’s push for egalitarian access to quality education.

One like-minded institution visited by Crow and the ASU team was Galala University in New Cairo, Egypt. Galala is one of 17 Cintana Alliance partner universities powered by ASU. Crow met with Mohamed El-Shinawi, president of the university; Adel Al-Adawy, chairman of the board for the university; and other senior leaders and board members.

The audience for a presentation by Crow on innovation and international outreach included leaders of Galala University and cultural attaches from numerous Arab and African countries with embassies in Egypt. Interviews followed with Egyptian media outlets covering ASU’s visit.

Crow said it was clear how the deep relationships built with Galala and other Cintana partners provide a way to advance ASU’s charter and help serve students from Egypt, the Middle East/North Africa region and around the world.  

In Egypt, the ASU team also toured and met with leaders of Ain Shams University and met with Ayman Ashour, Egypt’s minister of higher education and scientific research. And U.S. Ambassador John Desrocher hosted a luncheon honoring Crow.

In the UAE, President Crow met with:

  • His Highness Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the deputy ruler of the Emirate of Dubai. He also is the deputy prime minister and minister of finance of the UAE.
  • His Excellency Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, the minister of education.
  • The ministers of state for artificial intelligence, digital work and remote work applications; and for public education and advanced technology.
  • The minister of state for science, advanced technologies and public education.
  • Sarah Al Amiri, the chairwoman of the United Arab Emirates Space Agency and her deputy.

Crow was on hand to help launch the first UAE alumni chapter for ASU, and he later met with leaders of Khalifa University and Abu Dhabi University.

For Crow and the ASU team, it was clear that higher education plays an important role in advancing the United States’ engagement around the world. Many ASU activities contribute to that effort, including the International Development Initiative, Global Launch, Education for Humanity, the McCain Institute for International Leadership, the Thunderbird School of Global Management, and the Leadership, Diplomacy and National Security Lab.

“As a country,” Crow said, “the power and influence of the United States is found primarily through the energy and ideals evident in our efforts to work with others to solve problems and to educate the people of the world.”

Top photo: Galala University is built on the Galala Plateau outside Cairo, looking out to the Gulf of Suez. It is part of a large, master-planned city.