MISHAWAKA—The emerging popularity of electronic sports, shortened to esports, has led a few people to call into question the validity of the field being labeled a “sport.” The trepidation is understandable; gaming is seen as little more than a hobby, and an unhealthy one at that, by society at large. Combine that with esports having been around for less than a decade, and it is difficult enough to figure out what qualifies as an eSport, much less a sport in general. While this issue of definition has not stopped the rapid increase in popularity, it will likely increase the number of people who criticize the nature of esports. I personally believe esports has as much right to be called a sport as chess and poker.
To demonstrate this description issue is not only academic, we will travel to the mystical pages of a dictionary, Merriam-Webster to be specific. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “sport” as “a source of diversion: recreation.” I doubt anyone in the past two decades would not call video games “recreation,” and I put even less faith in them refusing to call them “a source of diversion.” Far be it from me to only take the advice of one expert. Perhaps Dictionary.com has something different. “An athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature” posits the website. Video games have certainly been competitive since their creation: the premise of Pong is to outperform either a computer or another player. Though they might not necessitate tremendous physical prowess, several video games in the usual esports lineup certainly require skill. These assertions might not be enough to sway everybody unfortunately. That is why I am making one last stop at the International Olympic Committee, which recognizes an activity as a sport if it is both practiced by men in over 75 countries on four continents and by women in over 40 countries in three continents and overseen by a global organization that is not a government. I do concede esports have not reached this threshold, but it is worth noting that a significant number of countries already have esports leagues, and the number only shows signs of growing.
Those against referring to esports as proper sports typically cite the “electronic” portion of the term rendering the whole as an oxymoron. Many people have told me esports are not proper sports because “you are just sitting there” or “they are just a workout for your thumbs.” Though condescending in phrasing, their concerns are still valid. The more health-focused people posit it is unhealthy to put in as much time sitting down and staring at a screen as another athlete would put in running laps, doing drills, or any other physical activity. These two groups are just exhibiting different iterations of the same argument: esports lack the physicality of a traditional sport.
I do concede esports tournaments and practices do not contain as much kinetic activity as the game of soccer. However, esports, like any sport, feature a different kind of physicality exhibited in a different way than others. The ideal football player is built quite differently than the ideal baseball player. While it pales in comparison to dunking in basketball, esports athletes have to raise their Actions Per Minute (APM) and decrease their reaction times. To do this, players need to stay in a relatively healthy physical condition; an exercise regimen and a good diet keep these competitors at the top of their game. Without it, they risk losing their edge, and the ability to compete. To put it simply, if players cannot maintain their skill, mental and physical, they cannot compete. Therefore, esports does require more physicality than the disinterested observer would expect. That physicality is simply not as visible as in a more kinetic sport.
Another prevalent argument is the presence of entertainment value in esports. Are they viable spectator sports? A lot of the entertainment value in video games is found in the playing thereof. The medium itself relies on a high level of interaction with the subject, enabling everything on screen to happen. Further still, playing games with friends is often when video games are at their most enjoyable, so watching strangers play them seems antithetical. Watching esports, as compared to traditional sports, simply puts another layer between the spectator and the action: traditional sports see the players in the game, creating the spectacle for the audience, whereas esports players are controlling the game for the audience.
To put forth that argument would make any sports fan a hypocrite. Oftentimes, your average football game viewer is not a professional football player. That is to say, if two teams of viewers were to compete, the resulting game would not be as exciting as one put on by professionals. In much the same way, the average esports viewer is not a pro and likely could not replicate the spectacle in a tournament. It is fun to watch people who are good at something be good at something, especially when they are competing against someone equally good. A baseball team executing a triple play would be just as exciting for their fans as watching an Overwatch team pull off a team kill for their fans.
In terms of finances and viewership, esports are some of the most viable sports out there. Several universities across the U.S. have collegiate teams, offering players scholarships to play competitively. There are also the numerous existing professional leagues stretching from coast to coast offering cash prizes in the sextuple digits. South Bend has invested millions of dollars in creating an esports arena in its downtown area, as the expected return is more than enough to turn a profit. In fact, the industry has been growing so quickly, experts predict viewership to surpass that of sports like golf, hockey, and even baseball in a matter of years. If that does not demonstrate a market for watching people “working out their thumbs,” then I do not know what does.
At this point, esports are far from becoming as universal as soccer, but the definition of the word shows they are, objectively, just as much a sport. Even if some people still contend the point on the basis of definition, the strides that have been made in the industry in the last decade show that it certainly deserves the title on a financial basis alone. No matter the opinion of the spectator, esports is gaining more and more popularity, and, with that, more and more people who acknowledge it for the sport that it is.
“How Are Sports Chosen for the Olympics?” Edited by Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica , Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2020, www.britannica.com/story/how-are-sports-chosen-for-the-olympics#:~:text=The%20Olympic%20Charter%20indicates%20that,countries%20and%20on%20three%20continents.
“Sport.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, 2012, www.dictionary.com/browse/sport?s=t.
“Sport.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, 10 Aug. 2020, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sport.