Should esports be considered on the same level as “traditional” sports?
By Ashwath Vimal
Esports has not been considered seriously by many since it started gaining popularity in the 2000s. One main reason for this was the launch of Major League Gaming in 2002, which hosted many esports tournaments. While it has been on the rise for over a decade, many say it is not on the same level as conventional sports, and that it does not deserve the same recognition. However, this should not be the case. Esports require just as much talent, hard work, and time as a “normal” sport. Today, I am here to eradicate these beliefs and convince you that esports is a real sport.
The definition of a sport, from the Oxford Dictionary, is “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” The reaction time required to play sports should be a sufficient amount of “physical exertion” to qualify it as a sport because it does not specify how much physical exertion is required. If a game like chess, which requires no physical movement, can be a sport, that esports can be too.
While esports is equal to customary sports in many ways, one of the biggest criticisms esports garners is the fact that is the physical activity required to play. An article about why esports is not a sport from The Week states, “On the loosest imaginable definition a sport involves not only skill and competition but physical exertion and at least the possibility of injury…Sitting on a couch interacting with your television set is not a sport…”
Esports is a sport that requires the least amount of physical activity compared to other sports because of the fact that you are sitting down and not constantly mocking around. Furthermore, it is very unlikely you would get injured playing esports, as you are moving around very minimally and are not making your body reach its limits. Sports like basketball, football, and ping pong require at least some parts of your body to be at peak physical condition, whether it be your whole upper body or just your arms. Sitting in front of a computer all day moving your arms and hands around does not require any part of your body to be at peak physical condition.
While a lot of the things said above can be very true, they are not in all cases. For instance, as stated by the SJSU report, esports athletes “…have to train their hand movement speed and reaction times to be so precise that this leads to sufficient physical exertion to be considered a sport”. For example, reaction time to catch a ball is just as important as reaction time to flick your crosshair between multiple players in a shooter game. This requires your body to be able to move your hands and arms at quick speeds, just like in other sports.
Furthermore, while many who play video games are sitting on their couches in front of their televisions, professional esports players are not. First of all, they will be sitting at a desk focusing on their game with the intent to win, unlike most recreational players. Furthermore, much more dedication and effort are put in than just sitting on a couch and looking at a screen. As stated earlier, countless hours are put into practice for tournaments and to develop actual strategies like any other sport.
Injuries, while not as likely in esports, are still possible. Some injuries professional esports players receive from playing, as stated by a doctor in an article from USA Today, are “…carpal tunnel, tennis elbow, severe shoulder, back, neck, and foot pain.” While not very severe at times, these injuries can be career-ending, as described by the article in the next sentence.
Another way that esports meets the definition of sports is because, like other sports, it provides entertainment. For instance, an article by NBC in 2019 states, “…viewership numbers from the the ‘League of Legends’ World Championship finals…showed that almost 100 million unique viewers tuned in to the event online. For comparison, last year’s Super Bowl had just over 98 million viewers…”
The quote above shows that big esports tournaments attract just as much of an audience as the biggest traditional sports tournaments. Esports matches are action-packed and exciting, just like other sports, which is why so many people tuned in for the “League of Legends” World Championship.
You might argue that since the esports tournament was a “world championship” and the Super Bowl is targeted mainly towards Americans. However, American football has had over a century to amass an audience since the formation of the Nation Football League. Esports has just had a bit over two decades, as mentioned at the beginning of the article.
Another way esports is like any other sport is the amount of time put into practice. Esports athletes do not just sit in front of their computers for a couple of hours a day and end it there. A recent article by TMZ sports interviewed two Call of Duty professional players; Dillon “Attach” Price stated that he and his team are “…online and playing as a team for 5 to 6 hours a day.” He also expanded later in the article, saying they practice “usually 6 to 7 days a week…”
On the side of physical sports, Bustle published an article highlighting the training regiment of an Olympic athlete. The article mentions that Olympic skier Sara Renner said that her week consists of “…25 hours of practice, or approximately three to four hours each day.”
Based on these quotes, an esports athlete actually practices more on a daily/weekly basis than a traditional sports athlete. While some traditional athletes are more likely to practice more than that, some are also likely to practice less. Taking that into account, we can use these numbers as an average and say that an esports athlete trains at least as much as a normal sports athlete, and maybe even more. The amount of time put into training shows that esports is not something anyone can do and requires serious commitment.
Along with hours of practice, the training regiment of an esports athlete is similar in many aspects compared to any other athlete. For example, an overview of the typical day-to-day life of an esports athlete by Intel states, “…they constantly scrimmage…these games are all recorded and studiously poured over…”.
Like other sports athletes, esports players are always practicing the game they are playing. One way they practice, as stated by the article, is through playing games against other teams to prepare for tournaments. Whether it is a solo game or a team game, players are consistently honing their skills through playing the game they compete in. Furthermore, players watch back their gameplay to see what they did wrong, in order to fix any mistakes they make while playing.
This type of practice is also known as VOD reviewing. VOD stands for “video on demand,” and in this case, it is recorded gameplay. The application of VOD reviewing is comparable to traditional sports players do to increase their in-game performance. VOD reviewing can include watching back your own games or someone else in esports and conventional sports.
As stated by an article by Medium on the topic of esports, this allows you to “…look at their opponent’s methods and establish their strengths and weaknesses” In both esports and traditional sports, this enables athletes to come up with strategies to beat other teams in professional matches. Players and coaches in esports will look at opposing teams’ gameplay and decide formations, plays, etc, just like in traditional sports.
One more way esports is similar in regard to other sports is that both have professional teams and organizations that sign players under contracts. A report from San Jose State University (SJSU) that compares esports and conventional sports states, “Just as soccer, basketball, football, etc. teams have staff that helps out the team, esports teams are no different. Bigger esports teams can have multiple coaches, analysts, and even scouts that are always looking for new athletes to recruit”
Esports teams have members other than the athletes to help them play and practice better, just like with other sports teams. They are not left to fend on their own by their organizations, as these esports teams take their athletes seriously and help them be their best, just like staff on a basketball or football team would. Both types of sports have coaches to guide them on how to play and analysts to help them develop strategies. Furthermore, all esports teams have scouts that lookout for up-and-coming players, just like in traditional sports.
Additionally, esports teams attract interest from big companies. The same SJSU report conveys that “…companies such as Intel, Red Bull, and Mountain Dew are jumping at the chance to sponsor a team…”. Cloud9, one of the biggest esports organizations in the world, is worth at least $350 million, as stated by an article from Forbes on the most valuable esports teams. They are sponsored by a prominent sportswear company named Puma. Puma is one of the largest design companies in their industry, stated by this article that says it had over $5.7 billion in revenue in 2019. They also sponsor sports teams like Manchester City, which is considered one of the best soccer teams globally because of their 27 wins in one of Europe’s top soccer leagues, the Premier League. This indicates that big companies take esports and esports teams seriously, and consider them on the same level as other sports.
The final nail in the coffin to convince people who believe esports to not be a real sport is that even professional “traditional” sports athletes support esports. For example, former NBA champion Shaquille O’Neal is one of NRG’s biggest investors, one of the leading organizations in the esports scene. Furthermore, Los Angeles Rams lineman Roger Saffold has even created his own esports team, Rise Nation, as stated by an article from AListDaily. This shows how professional athletes in other sports do support esports and think of them as the “real deal,” as they believe in the industry and think it has value and potential.
One reason for this could be because the esports industry is projected to reach above $1.6 billion, making it a lucrative decision to invest in it. Furthermore, as stated by a CNBC article, “by 2022, the audience for esports will grow to 276 million people, putting it on par with the most popular traditional sports, including the NFL.” As the article later states, not only is money on the line, so is exposure to a completely new group of people. The popularity of esports is rising, and big names are taking notice of it.
Overall, the industry of esports should not be taken lightly. It’s time competitive gamers get to share the spotlight with “regular” athletes in the world of sports instead of being brushed to the side like vegetables on a child’s dinner plate.