This week, the Washington Post had an interesting story about large companies turning to esports to strengthen teams and increase productivity. This approach can be better than than the physical sports often used for teambuilding, improving trust between employees, and boosting productivity. While this benefit is particularly pronounced during the pandemic, the benefits could extend to when we aren’t stuck at home. 

This practice is becoming so popular that there is now a formal Corporate Esports Association that handles the games much as company baseball, football, and basketball teams are handled, making them a regular part of employees’ work/life balance

Let’s discuss why esports may be better than regular sports for team building during a pandemic or in more normal times.

During the pandemic

You really can’t play regular sports during a pandemic. The risks of infection are high and employees live farther apart now, making participation problematic.  The camaraderie, trust, loyalty, and team growth that arise from playing on a company team are essential; the relationships built up during competition tend to carry over into a company’s operations by strengthening employee relationships.

Those connections provide employees with peers they’re more comfortable calling on for help. (This last is important because the isolation from the COVID-19 pandemic can lead to depression and increases the potential for suicide.)  And this is where eSports are making a difference. Because activities can be done by employees worldwide, they can provide some of the social benefits of regular sports but across larger geographic areas. You can play and chat about what you are going through, share stories, and if you notice someone being extra quiet or quick to anger, ask and perhaps, identify, what’s going — and help a stressed-out co-worker get timely help.

After the pandemic

I once played on a company volleyball team but had to stop after I injured another player. While real-life  sports do have substantial physical benefits, they also carry risks, including injury and the inability to create diverse teams. If you have large and small people playing contact sports, the smaller players will likely attract the most injuries and related animosity. Women are also often left out, which can adversely impact careers, reinforce misogynistic behavior, and create resentment. 

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