Are eSports Sport?

The DOTA 2 Championship this year was broadcasted on ESPN 2 and included a grand prize of over 5 million dollars.

If you are at all active online, play video games, or even just watch the news, you’ve likely heard of a new development in the world of gaming: eSports.  Over the past decade, interest in games has increased greatly, and companies have formed to try and cash in on the great talent of top players.  Major League Gaming, probably the most prominent of these companies, was founded all the way back in 2002 and has grown exponentially since then, as shown in the huge fan following for games like League of Legends (the 2014 World Championship was hosted in Seoul, South Korea’s World Cup stadium).  But are eSports truly sport?  Can we put video games in the same list as football, baseball, or soccer?

It’s probably best to start simply when trying to answer this question: what are eSports, anyway?  Put simply, eSports are video games played in a competitive, professional environment.  Some games are one-on-one, such as Starcraft II, and others are team-based, like Call of Duty.  Clearly, then, eSports have an important aspect of traditional sport: competition.  It can’t be doubted that these games are competitive; there is a real-time battle between two individuals or two teams.  If matches weren’t so highly competitive, a new eSports arena probably wouldn’t be opening up in Columbus, Ohio.

Epsilon Ghosts, a professional Call of Duty team, competes in a tournament.

eSports also require a great amount of skill and knowledge.  Competitors in shooters must understand the strengths and weaknesses of their weaponry and how to participate in a squad in warfare.  Competitors in sport games must have incredibly precise movements with a controller but also knowledge of strategy within the sport, such as how to kill a power-play in hockey.  Competitors in battle arena games must have great mechanical skill with their characters and the know-how for shutting down opponent strategies.

The typical argument against eSports, though, does not involve competition, strategy, or skill, for these are undeniable.  Instead, people often focus on one singular aspect: athleticism.  I’m not going to say that eSports are athletic, because no, it does not require strength, agility, or other traits typically associated with athleticism.  Nonetheless, other activities that are often considered sport lack these characteristics.   From the gaming blog Destructoid, Elsa champions this view, arguing harshly that eSports simply are not the same as sport but for different reasons than athleticism.

As Professor LaVaque-Manty points out, NASCAR racing is not an athletic activity, yet it is often considered sport.  Poker, too, is at least considered sport by ESPN, the world’s most recognizable sports network.  The World Series of Poker is broadcast to millions each year.  Interestingly enough, and to the chagrin of those who dislike eSports, ESPN also recognizes professional gamers on their website, like this profile of two professional Call of Duty players. So where is the line?  What is it that truly defines sport?

This is not a question that I can answer.  Society itself defines sport, and it is clear that eSports possess many of the characteristics normally required in sport (competition, skill, strategy, etc.).  In my opinion, then, the fact that eSports does not fit within society’s definition of sport is an easily solvable problem.  Bleacher Report agrees, even saying that eSports are sport in a broad sense of the term, even if not an athletic event. If eSports are not currently sport, they should be.

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2 thoughts on “Are eSports Sport?

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with your last sentence. I think that eSport qualifies as a sport given the mental dexterity, quick-wittedness, multi-tasking, strategic thinking, plus athletic fingers that it requires. As in physical sport, eSport requires a mix of hard work and innate ability. It isn’t something everyone can be outstanding in, even if the same amount of practice is put into it. Furthermore, eSport has the ability to canvass the crowds and get people rooting for players/teams. A profitable industry has and will continue to be made in eSports. However, the issue of whether athletic scholarships should be given to players is tricky to navigate. For one, people may not be comfortable with the idea of college students getting paid for sitting in front of the computer playing video games. If athletic scholarships are offered to video game players in college, these should be highly selective (only offered to the very best, not to fill up some quota). Moreover, the school administration must be ready to provide evidence and a plan to justify the money that goes into supporting these students- for example, show a schedule of the typical gamer-athlete, what they do to prepare other than playing the game (e.g. watching other gameplays, reading books and manuals to improve their strategy), how the money is spent. There must be transparency in the way athletic scholarships are given.

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  2. Kyle,

    Overall, I thought this was a great blog post. You explained eSports and the controversy that is eSports while relating it back to class. After reading this I now believe more that eSports constitute sport even though they are not athletic. Also, your embedded links were very useful. Your introduction and background really helped your argument as well as the video. If I could change something, I would ask you to implement some quotations from the article in class. Great job!

    -Zach

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