Sports are enormously popular. Video games are enormously popular. But are they the same thing?
Whether this question has been on your mind, or you haven’t even considered it, this is a debate that has been building for some time: Are video games, now often called Esports, actually sports or just games?
The debate over whether Esports are real sports or simply games is the next evolution in a broader debate over what should and should not be considered a sport. This debate has traditionally included arguments over activities like billiards, darts, and chess, with viewpoints on both sides of the argument.
Some claim activities like these are sports because they involve competition, wins and losses, strategies, skills, training, and practice. Others argue that activities like these are not sports because the level of physical effort and athletic ability required to perform them is minimal when compared to traditional sports.
While there isn’t a definitive answer to this debate, here are some things to consider.
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What is the formal definition of a sport?
Among the various definitions of “sport” in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition that applies to this discussion is as follows:
sport, noun – a source of diversion; recreation
This is a very broad definition that can encompass many activities. It can reasonably be used to classify everything from traditional sports on the playing field or court to board games to even Esports played on computers as legitimate sports.
Are Esports a source of diversion?
Let’s look at the first part of Merriam-Webster’s definition of sport: a source of diversion.
Traditional athletes, especially at the professional level, must practice. They dedicate many hours, sometimes daily, honing their skills and developing new ones, understanding new tactics and strategies, and generally improving their performance so they can compete and win in competitions against other athletes.
It can be argued that eSport players, especially those at the professional level, do these things as well. They practice gaming for many hours per day trying new techniques, improving their speed, understanding game mechanics and how to take advantage of them, memorizing maps and terrain, and many other activities that will help them improve in competitions against other Esports players.
Are Esports a physical activity engaged in for pleasure?
Let’s look at the second part of Merriam-Webster’s definition of a sport: recreation.
Both traditional sports and eSport are activities done for recreation or pleasure. It would be difficult to argue otherwise.
Perhaps the largest source of consternation in this debate centers around how the term “physical” is applied to these activities.
Traditional sports are physical. Athletes are required to exert physical effort, in some cases tremendous effort, in their respective sports. Strength, stamina, endurance, flexibility, and other physical traits are required to not only perform but to succeed in traditional sports.
While Esports do not require the level of physical effort of nearly all traditional sports, eSport gamers must exert physical effort. Esports require endurance, as seen in marathon gaming sessions and competitions that can last for hours. They must also have tremendous eye-hand coordination and speed. Those who disagree are welcome to try winning a game of Mario Kart without holding a controller in their hands.
Are Esports considered sports like football, soccer, or basketball?
We’ve established that Esports share characteristics with traditional sports. But are Esports considered sports in the same way as sports like football, soccer, or basketball?
This is a nuanced philosophical conversation and requires some additional, more in-depth analysis. However, there is one aspect of traditional sports like the ones mentioned above and Esports that has a more obvious similarity to explore: teams.
Do Esports have teams?
As with traditional sports, Esports are played both individually and on teams depending on the video game being played. eSport teams must strategize, practice tactics and communication, and so on, just like traditional sports teams.
Esports teams have become most popular at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. At all levels, Esports teams compete in games and tournaments against other Esports teams. Some teams represent their school in local or regional competitions or even their home nation in international tournaments.
Do professional Esports players make money?
Professional traditional sports is an industry that commands billions of dollars worldwide. Even with the detrimental effects due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry’s 2020 worldwide revenue is projected to be $74B.
However, the professional eSport industry has generated incredible growth and is projected to earn nearly $1.5B in 2020 revenue. Some professional Esports teams compete in tournaments for total prize money in the millions of dollars and over 100 Esports players worldwide have earned over $1M from their winnings, approaching the earnings of some professional football or soccer players.
Are there governing bodies that regulate Esports?
While Esports have teams like traditional sports, unlike collegiate sports, Esports do not have an equivalent to the NCAA or other governing body. Some organizations have begun to get involved, such as the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) with the intent to standardize Esports at the collegiate level.
At the professional level, there is not yet an equivalent to the NBA or NFL. Thus far, there have only been the organizers of professional gaming tournaments and the game publishers themselves as loose professional gaming associations.
One interesting development in this area was an Esports exhibition that was held before the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The Olympic Virtual Series allowed players to compete in five Esports simulation games. While these weren’t medal competitions, they were a step toward including Esports in the Olympics themselves, which a growing number of advocates have been working toward.
Can Esports players get college scholarships?
We’ve established that there is a tremendous amount of money in the Esports industry. However, can Esports players get scholarships?
In addition to prize money for Esports gaming competitions and tournaments, Esports players are being awarded scholarships to compete for their schools at the collegiate level. Over 150 colleges and universities now field competitive Esports teams, with a large number already offering scholarships.
Varsity programs recruit players and award Esports scholarships to gamers who play a wide variety of games. This includes first-person shooters, multiplayer online battle arenas, sports games, and fighting games, and this list continues to grow.
Are Esports players considered athletes?
Are Esports sports? While there is still no definitive answer to this question, the line between these activities appears to continue to blur and the debate will continue.
Are Esports players athletes? While this is a related question, it is an entirely different debate. Here is a recommended blog post that tackles this question.
I hope you have enjoyed this discussion. What do you think? Are Esports sports or just games? Leave your constructive feedback in the comment section below so we can keep this conversation about Esports and sports going!