Oh boy, here we go: debate of the century.
Ever since the growth of competitive gaming in the 1990s with tournaments such as the Nintendo World Championships and QuakeCon, the term “eSports” has sprung up like a diving board release after the jump of an obese man. eSports, or electronic sports, is a form of competitive gaming across a wide variety of video games. Can eSports really be considered a sport?
In order to address this conflict, we must first clearly define what a sport is. According to the Online Oxford Dictionary, a sport is: “An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.”
eSports, like sports, includes managers, teams, and individuals playing for an audience, but they aren’t usually considered to involve a lot of physical exertion. That would mean they are not a sport, according to the Oxford Dictionary.
eSports has challenged the definition of a sport to not only include physical exertion and activities, but the mental power and capacities and physical dexterity of individuals. Although some may argue that one’s dexterity on a mouse and keyboard is not a measurement of physical ability, eSports, like sports, requires muscle memory derived from practice. Moreover, definitions can change over time, especially during times of rapid change such as we are seeing now. Advancements in technology are altering what we value as a society. How important is physical exercise in the definition of sports in this rapidly developing world we live in today?
The growth of eSports has been undeniably exponential and will continue to grow throughout the next few years. This rate of growth has surprised many, especially those of who identify as Generation X. Before eSports, there was a clear line between the seemingly unhealthy video gaming and seemingly healthy outdoor sports and activities. Gaming was once limited to local contests between friends in the same household. Who would have ever thought that it would escalate to audiences in the millions.
eSports requires tremendous skill and practice in order to play professionally. In fact, it is quite common for professional League of Legends players to practice 12 hours a day in order to keep their reaction times and techniques sharp. Like the NBA and MLS, there are major competitive gaming leagues such as the ESL that consist of professional players who have devoted thousands of hours and are paid to play for a team.
The absence of amateur leagues is part of what is holding back eSports from gaining mainstream credibility. Sports benefit greatly from amateur leagues because they prepare athletes for the professional scene and further their skills. Major leagues are able to scout and draft players from amateur leagues to play for their teams. This transition stage is arguably one of the most important stages in an athlete’s career since players are often weeded out there. As of now, professional gamers are being directly drafted into major leagues such as the ESL based on their skill alone–and although skill is definitely a major factor in performance, they lack fundamental skills, such as being able to perform under pressure. Players require support and these additional programs in order to improve as athletes and prepare for the professional scene.
There are a couple of other differences that set eSports and sports apart. One of them is the amount of stability in the sports as compared to gaming. In games such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and League of Legends, there are buffs and nerfs (positive and negative changes) constantly being made to balance the multiple aspects of the game. This is a defining feature of eSports and forces players of all skill levels to adapt to these changes. Although there are changes made to professional sports as well, very few of them if at all, require players to change their play style since the regulation of sports has been well-developed and relatively consistent.
The level of professionalism and maturity is another noticeable difference between the two. As of now, there are very few programs available to people who want to pursue eSports as a professional career or even for fun. Whereas sports such as volleyball or basketball have numerous programs inside and outside of school for young players to improve their skills. Take for example, the great amount of support volleyball has in British Columbia where I live. In the densely populated lower mainland area, there are numerous volleyball clubs such as Apex Volleyball and Focus Volleyball available for passionate players as young as 12 years old. eSports on the other hand is severely limited in terms of available programs. There are very few if any programs available for young players to develop their skills. Furthermore, schools do not endorse eSports let alone offer programs for it.
The lack of support for young people playing eSports no doubt has to do with the stigma video games currently have. People have made correlations between video games and negative health effects. There are also certain high-profile tragedies that get drawn into the debate. Take, for example, the Columbine High School massacre of 1999 in Colorado, in which Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 12 students and a teacher in a mass shooting. Both Harris and Klebold were well-known in the popular game Doom and many correlated their actions with Doom’s violence despite the lack of solid evidence for this. And that, of course, is not the only example. In fact, it is common in the media for commentators to associate violent behavior with video games.
Ultimately, I don’t think we can classify eSports as a sport. At least, not right now. eSports has tremendous potential, especially in today’s society which revolves around the growth of technology; however, there are still some limitations to eSports that make it difficult to accept as a sport in its current state, such as the lack of programs available to players at various age levels. eSports still needs time to develop as a sport and build a more solid identity. It needs to somehow stop people from viewing it as a simple time waster and more like a cooperative, strategic activity requiring dexterity and teamwork. I look forward to see how far eSports will go in the future.