November 19th, 2021
“For me, it fills a similar niche to what watching football or rugby might for someone else” (Lucy, 22)
Before we attempt to answer the question ‘are esports real sports?’, we need to consider what is commonly accepted as the definition of a ‘sport’. A quick google search brings up hundreds of web pages yielding pretty much the same result over and over again.
The Cambridge English Dictionary - “a game, competition, or activity needing physical effort and skill that is played or done according to rules, for enjoyment, and /or as a job”
The Oxford English Dictionary - “an activity involving physical exertion or skill [...] regulated by rules or customs in which an individual or team competes against another or others”
The Collins English Dictionary ‘ “Sports are games such as football and basketball and other competitive leisure activities which need physical effort and skill.”
Naturally, when we think of sports we think of the traditional ones such as football, tennis, netball, basketball. Pretty much anything we were forced to do in Year 9 P.E. But, like many things, there are activities that don't quite fit into such a specific definition. Dance is a physical activity but it isn't necessarily competitive by nature, and snooker is considered a sport though it has much less physical prowess than others such as rugby. However, according to the BBC, The Council of Europe charter on sport defines a sport as “all forms of physical activity, which through casual or organised participation, aim at expressing or improving physical fitness and mental well-being, forming social relationships or obtaining results in competition at all levels". This certainly does give us a little more room to play with when considering why esports should be included under the sport umbrella.
“If something like chess is considered a sport why wouldn't gaming?” (Daniel, 22)
“Physical exertion or skill”
So, one of the main arguments against defining esports as ‘real’ sports is the lack of physical effort required to play. As Daniels recognises in their article, it is the historical perception of gamers as ‘lazy loners’ that perhaps denotes the idea that gaming is an effortless, no-physical activity. Perhaps this was once true, but with the rise in popularity of esports, “no longer do these rejects reside in their mother’s basement to play their favorite games. They compete and practice in the same realm as traditional athletes and hold the interest of prominent investors". In a professional context, gaming can take quite the toll on the body both in and out of the gameplay. For example, players must maintain their health and wellbeing in the lead up to and fall out of games.
“[Players] still practice day in day out, go to training boot camps, have coaches and play on a stage in front of fans” (Declan, 22, Tell employee)
“Most professional gamers have to prepare for hours and hours to stay in good physical shape to maintain the mental ability to play a game for 8-12 hours a day” (Jack, 18, competitive gamer)
“A number of professional teams have to have a strict exercise regime to counteract the time they spend gaming.” (Mitch, 23)
And that's not even accounting for the physical aspects of gameplay which are all too often taken for granted. Skills such as quick reflexes, a keen eye, fine motor skills and coordination are all essential for success in esports.
“The physical coordination of esports can be compared to any sports that require very accurate aim and execution of technique such as golf, darts, archery…” (Joshua, 22)
“Fast reflexes, good stamina, staying focused” (Jack, 18)
“There are two main focuses in esports - game sense and mechanics. So there is a physical element in that your fingers need to do what your brain tells them to within split seconds so you have to be super coordinated and have fast reflexes.” (Daniel, 25)
“Skill is so important in esports, people can play the game for 10,000 hours and still not be nearly as skilled as the top players.” (Bryn, 23)
To understand how esports may be considered as legitimate sports one has to begin to see how sport may go beyond our traditional perception of sports as muscled, sweaty men tackling each other on a pitch. It's about accepting “there are a lot of sports out there that are more cerebral than physical” (Daniel, 25).
“an individual or team competes”
One of the key elements of what constitutes a sport is its competitive nature. If there is one thing that esports is not short of it is world-class players and teams ready to take each other on.
“The word sport implies competition and the competition aspect is definitely there.” (Daniel, 25)
There are a number of official tournaments all over the world. Some of the largest names are the ESL ONE held in Cologne, Germany, or the Fortnite World Cup Finals, or even The International in which some categories have yielded prize draws of up to $25.5 mill. There are many smaller, independent tournaments being run all over the world with Tell regularly running our own. There’s no doubt that esports are growing in popularity at a rapid pace with in-person and online viewing.
“The viewership is amazing, look not only on YouTube, but to Twitch!” (Will, 22)
The fan culture surrounding esport events is huge and constantly growing, reminiscent of traditional sport culture.
“I followed multiple teams (primarily Cloud 9) for years” (Mitch, 23)
“People wear the shirts of teams they like and never miss the games” (Daniel, 25)
“Having been to a (CS:GO) tournament in London a few years ago, I can confidently say that the passion and rooting for your team aspects are still present.” (Joshua, 22)
Though the fan-culture seems much improved from the hooliganism that can be drawn to more traditional sports such as football, it is clear that esports fandoms are not without their own toxicity.
“The fan culture surrounding esports has slowly been getting better but has always been a bit toxic, with CS:GO and Overwatch fan culture [...] many players have faced racial abuse.” (Jack, 18)
Racially motivated abuse was also cited as a problem in the League of Legends fandom. Racism has historically been an issue in the sporting world and esports are no exception to the rule. On top of this, gamblling culture has also reached the esports world with betting sites dedicated entirely to esport tournaments.
“There’s merchandise that eSports teams have that link to sponsorships with big gaming/PC company products.” (Michael, 26)
“regulated by rules or customs”
In every competitive sport, rules and regulations are a huge part of ensuring that fairness and sportsmanship is adhered to. In 2016 the WESA (World eSports Association) was set up as industry professionals with the leading esport company ESL at the helm. This organisation works towards officially implementing processes to ensure “player representation, standardized regulations, and revenue shares for teams”. By popping over to their website the official Code of Conduct for teams and players can be found easily.
Additionally, each individual game, as part of a tournament, will have its own set of rules for each player to abide by.
“Anyone thats tried gaming can testify it's difficult” (Lucy, 22)
When it comes down to technicality, there’s very little left to be argued against esports’ inclusion in the sporting world. The physical and mental skill required in professional gaming is undeniable. The growing fanbase is enough to fill olympic size stadiums and then some if you include the online viewers and supporters. The rules and regulations that have been brought in by legitimised esport organisations and boards just further cement esports as a recognised sport.
“Esports are their own thing. The British Esports Association says they are not sports but credible activities in their own right.” (Alex, 22, Tell employee)
When it comes down to it though, does it matter if esports are accepted as a ‘real’ or ‘legitimate’ sport? Whether or not you personally categorise esports as a sport, it is indisputable that gaming is no longer just for the loner sitting in their bedroom. It is for talented individuals who, through the medium, are capable of much success.