As competitive gaming rises and revenues grow, Gaming Editor Roshni Patel and Critic James Honke battle it out to prove whether esports are sports
Recognised in 22 countries as a sport, esports clearly deserve to be named a sport and be entitled to all the benefits the classification can offer. As short electronic sports, esports consist of highly skilled players playing multiplayer or popular strategy games competitively for viewers and often large cash prizes. Like their traditional sport counterparts, they often have to undergo many of the same training regimes, such as fitness, diet and training, in order to keep them in peak physical fitness and maintain the sharpness of their minds and reflexes. But how do the two measure up?
The council of europe defines sports as a form of physical activity that aims to express or improve physical fitness and mental well-being, through the formation of social relationships or competitive achievements and awards. And while that sounds very much like traditional sports, it also describes esports too. Though the competitive play of esports does not require much more than the minimal physical activity, it certainly engages the brain and improves mental wellness, as players are often required to make 300 decisions per minute, much like professional athletes, who may need to make adjustments within seconds in order to react to their opponents. Combined with near constant communication in team based games, there is a lot of pressure on these players to react accordingly to every situation, which is sure to make many players sweat. Esports is also just as social as traditional sports, fostering the same camaraderie between players, and a community between fans.
Compared with other sports under fire, like darts and snooker, esports certainly rank among them, as each of them can played with little effort casually, but often require far more physical and mental exertion and discipline when played at a competitive level, which is especially true as you hear of players bowing out of matches due to strain injuries and requiring physiotherapists to keep playing at their best.
And it is their best that fills stadiums and peaks online viewership, that encourages traditional broadcasters, such as ESPN and BBC3 to broadcast esports tournaments live to their viewers: a viewer base which is rapidly increasing and comfortably competing with traditional sports. Ironic, given that this is where esports learnt all of its tricks. Indeed, this is where it continues to learn, as growing leagues like the Overwatch League host weekly meeting with traditional sports analysts to improve their management and viewership. Coupled with their increasing similarities to traditional sports, from their league style tournaments to offering higher educational scholarships for young professional players, esports certainly look and act like sports from a distance.
Already making its Olympic debut at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics this year, esports is beginning to turn heads, as Starcraft 2 pro player Sasha ‘Scarlett’ Hostyn won Intel’s pre-Winter Olympic event. The 2022 Asian Games also announced that esports will be a medal event, and even the Paris Olympic organisers are considering esports events for their bid for their 2024 bid. Whether you consider esports players as athletic as traditional sports players, it is clear that they should at least be given the option of being considered as such, as they too, are masters of their sport.
Before I start, I want to preface this with the following: I am a big fan of competitive gaming. I love Rocket League (Flipsid3 Tactics usually prove that Europe are the kings, just saying), personally, but I hold no desire to upset the fans of other competitive games like Overwatch, DOTA or LoL, nor do I wish to diminish the effort put in by players to become as skilled as they are. I’ve never had nor never will have as much skill in my entire body as some of these players have in their little fingers.
That said, I have to admit the open secret of our favoured pastime: ‘esports’ are not sports. And it’s really time that we started to celebrate that fact.
A sport requires that one elevates their heartrate through some kind of ‘physical exertion… in which an individual or team competes against… others for entertainment’ – this immediately fails ‘esports’ at the first hurdle, since whilst they get our pulses racing due to the quality, skill and excitement, they involve little to no physical exertion whatsoever. That’s not to say that these players don’t train for many hours to become the best in the world, including a proper fitness regime to keep them healthy. Yet this does not make one an athlete – being an athlete requires physical athletic prowess, not merely a respectable skill. To my mind, this also excludes darts and snooker, which are pastimes, certainly, but not sports.
Yet the crux of this argument is not to argue over technicalities, but instead to ask why? Why chase the ‘sport’ label and try to fit a square peg into a round hole?
Competitive gaming is an alternative leisure activity with its own alternative platforms like Twitch, Youtube Gaming and Microsoft Mixer that had a viewership between them of 600m different viewers; indeed, online gaming has more viewers than Netflix, Hulu, ESPN and HBO combined. Competitive gaming’s biggest events, like the League of Legends World Championships, draw in over 100m viewers which is similar in numbers to the US viewers of the Superbowl and numbers are rising year on year, whilst viewership of the NFL is falling rapidly. It appears that ‘sports’ are of the old world, and that gaming is part of a brave new one.
This is even more obvious when we see how the old world is desperate for a chunk of the new; ESPN has started hosting gaming on its sports channels to counter falling viewing figures and ride the streaming wave, whilst the NFL recently announced that it was going to start broadcasting its games on Twitch as part of their deal with Amazon. The old world isn’t quite willing to give up just yet, which is why, as gamers, we should be revelling in the fact that gaming is a different beast and focus on making it open and inclusive to all, rather than trying to appeal to a shrinking demographic on failing platforms with outdated business models. To my mind, this attempt to rebrand gaming as a sport appeals to little more than a desire to ‘legitimate’ that which is already there. Let’s stop viewing gaming’s ‘open secret’ as a secret at all, and instead revel in the fact that we have the opportunity to be more open and inclusive than sport can ever be. We are different to sports and the certainly doesn’t mean that we’re worse.
So rather than trying to be athletes, let’s continue to be gamers.