What is Esports? (A reminder)

Esports, short for “electronic sports,” refers to the competitive world of video gaming where individuals or teams face off in organized tournaments, often playing for substantial prize money and significant prestige. Over the past few decades, esports has rapidly grown in popularity, evolving from casual competitions among friends to global events broadcasted to millions of viewers. Major esports tournaments can rival traditional sports events in terms of viewership, with arenas filled to capacity and passionate fans from around the world. A variety of games, ranging from real-time strategy titles, first-person shooters, to multiplayer online battle arenas, serve as the foundation for these competitions. As the industry has expanded, it has also fostered career opportunities, including professional players, coaches, analysts, and broadcasters, underlining esports’ transformation into a legitimate and influential component of modern entertainment.

A (very) brief history of Esports and its growth in 21st century

In the early days of esports, during the late 1990s and early 2000s, competitive video gaming was mostly a grassroots movement, with enthusiasts organizing small-scale tournaments in local LAN (Local Area Network) parties or arcades. Games like “Quake,” “StarCraft,” and “Counter-Strike” were foundational. By the 21st century, the landscape had dramatically shifted. For instance, the League of Legends World Championship in 2019 boasted over 100 million viewers, with the finals alone attracting an audience of 44 million concurrent viewers. Platforms like Twitch, launched in 2011, have also played a crucial role; by 2020, Twitch amassed over 140 million monthly active users, highlighting the growing appeal of esports and gaming broadcasts. Large tournaments, such as The International for “Dota 2”, have offered prize pools exceeding $30 million, showcasing the lucrative potential of the industry. As the years have passed, esports transitioned from a niche subculture to a global spectacle, backed by multi-million dollar sponsorships, professional teams, and players securing six to seven-figure contracts. Here is the list of highest paid esports players.

Why is there a debate?

The debate over whether esports can be classified as a “sport” stems from traditional definitions and perceptions of what constitutes athletic competition. Conventional sports often emphasize physical prowess, training, and agility, whereas esports primarily involves mental acuity, strategic planning, and quick reflexes, but in a more sedentary setting. Detractors argue that the lack of intense physical activity means esports shouldn’t be placed in the same category as traditional sports. However, proponents counter this by highlighting the rigorous training, discipline, team coordination, and competitive nature of esports, which mirror many aspects of traditional sports. Moreover, just as chess and other mind sports have been recognized for their competitive and strategic elements, many believe esports should be similarly acknowledged. The debate also touches on broader issues of cultural acceptance and the evolution of entertainment and competition in the digital age.

Similarities are uncanny

Obviously, we believe that Esports is a sport and should be recognised as such, but let’s look at some examples of why this might be the case:

  1. Physical Demands: Esports requires hand-eye coordination, timing, and quick reflexes, with some games demanding physical endurance.
  2. Mental Rigor: Players employ strategy, quick decision-making, and adaptability, much like traditional sports.
  3. Training: Pro players have intensive training schedules, often paralleling the dedication of traditional athletes.
  4. Teamwork: Many esports titles necessitate high-level team coordination and communication, similar to team-based sports.
  5. Organizational Structure: Esports boasts leagues, teams, coaches, rules, and official tournaments, resembling the infrastructure of established sports.
  6. Economic Influence: With its sponsorships, broadcasting rights, and advertising, esports mirrors the economic aspects of traditional sports.
  7. Global Appeal: International tournaments and fan bases in esports echo global sports events like the Olympics.
  8. Health Considerations: Esports players face physical and mental health challenges, highlighting the need for similar support structures as in other sports.
  9. Cultural Shift: The rise of digital entertainment is redefining traditional notions of sport, placing esports at this evolution’s center.

Devil is in the detail

Now, let’s play devil’s advocate and see what arguments are there against calling Esports a real Sport

  1. Physical Activity: Esports lacks the cardiovascular exertion typical of traditional sports.
  2. Digital vs. Physical: Competing in a virtual environment differs from a physical field or court. (This by the way is changing rapidly with the growing popularity of gaming arenas and academies where players have a physical place to play and train)
  3. Traditional Views: Esports may not align with longstanding definitions of sports rooted in physical activity and outdoor elements.
  4. Health Concerns: The sedentary nature of esports raises potential health risks like obesity and eye strain.
  5. Mental Over Physical: Esports emphasizes mental strategy more than physical athleticism, likening it to chess or poker.
  6. Cultural Resistance: Older generations may not view competitive gaming as a sport due to unfamiliarity.
  7. Game Inconsistency: The variety of esports games, each with unique rules, may lack the uniformity of traditional sports.
  8. Continuous Play: Unlike traditional sports seasons, esports can be played year-round without breaks.

Conclusion?

Without a doubt, both sides of the fence have valid reasons to lean one way or the other. It all boils down to every individual’s personal answer to a question of: What is a Sport? If sport is a physical activity that must involve running, jumping or fighting with fists, then the answer is no, Esports cannot be considered a sport. Undoubtedly though, for most people, sport goes way beyond the sweating; it’s about the discipline, mental and physical resilience, competition, comradery and allegiance. Truly, watching or playing a sport should invoke our best qualities and Esports certainly hits the mark on this.

What lies ahead

In the coming years, esports is poised to become an even more integral part of the mainstream sporting ecosystem. The rapid evolution of technology and the proliferation of high-speed internet access worldwide have already set the stage for virtual competitions to be just as exhilarating and engaging as traditional sports. With younger generations growing up with video games as a fundamental part of their recreational activities, the audience for esports continues to expand. Moreover, significant investments from celebrities, traditional sports figures, and major corporations underscore the sector’s potential for exponential growth. Cities are now vying to build dedicated esports arenas, and universities are offering scholarships for top-tier gaming talent, mirroring the pathways established for athletes in traditional sports. As global viewership continues to rise and the production quality of esports events reaches new heights, it won’t be long before esports stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the most celebrated sports in the world, merging the lines between digital athleticism and physical prowess.