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A Question of Sport: Is eSports a real sport?

'It’s the hunger. The fire. The burning desire to perform. It’s the late nights. It’s the grind. It’s the never-quit, grit-your-teeth-and-keep-going attitude…’ What, I hear you ask, is this...? A poet laureate? AJ’s latest press conference? Mo Farah talking about his bid to win the London Marathon? NOPE. This is the quote on the Adidas website as they launch their partnership with Fortnite legend and superstar gamer Ninja.

With the gaming industry again being at the centre of news again this week, with the addition of Apple Arcade to add to the tech giant's wide roster of business portfolios. By 2020, it is predicted that eSports alone will generate £1bn in global revenue, garnering audiences of 600 million. Amazon’s Twitch has acquired social network site Bebo to bolster its eSports efforts and due to this growth and advancement in the industry, there is now a genuine debate as to whether eSports can in fact be classed as a sport! We try to settle the ever growing argument between us WINGers (and maybe you guys too?) below.

 

'EA Sports... IT'S IN THE GAME'

Back in October 2017, the International Olympic Committee agreed that “eSports could be considered as a sporting activity but it must not infringe on the Olympic values,” (violence in games is a tricky point of contention). Since then, they have been in serious talks with the eSports powers that be, Intel and the Paris 2024 Olympics team, about inducting eSports into the Games as an actual bona fide demonstration sport. There is a clear interest on all sides for eSports’ inclusion due to potential audience and revenue growth. International eSports Acting Secretary General Leopold Chung has been encouraged by this and has stated that they will continue to "work consistently to promote eSport as a true sport beyond language, race and cultural barriers." 

Matt Segal, the Premier League governance manager, who drafted the rules for the ePremier League, says: “It’s got quite a lot to do with issues around engaging 18-26 year olds. Sports are starting to realise that to capture this market, eSports may play a key role, and therefore traditional sports and particularly sports clubs are starting to welcome eSports into the fold. The ePremier League is a good example of this.” But just because eSports is being welcomed in by some sections of the industry, does it mean that we all need to subscribe to the idea that it is actually becoming a sport?

 

The Dream

If you’d’ve told this writer over 25 years ago when playing Italia 90’ or Road Rash on my beloved SEGA MEGADRIVE that in a short space of time, the very act of sitting on one’s arse and playing one’s favourite computer game would actually be considered an Olympic sport, I would have been shocked. If you’d have then told me I could earn millions of £’s simply by becoming very good at this activity, then I’d most definitely still be in the exact same position today, with my skin seamlessly merged with the couch and no sentient friends to call my own. 

This image is one that many have imagined when considering career gaming: out-of-shape geeks who have spent more time perfecting ‘Hadoukens’ or ‘Sonic Booms’ than stepping outside their bedrooms and, you know, interacting with other humans. But as with the world of comics, this negative image has changed exponentially over the last few years. The level of gaming and, subsequently, the physical and mental skill-sets needed to reach the top, have become so developed that there is a genuine reason for the debate as to whether ‘eSports’ is a thing… rather than ‘eFun’ or ‘eSitting on your bum, eating Maltesers’.

 

Definitions

Whichever side of the fence you sit on about this depends on your definitions. Let’s reach for our old friend, the Oxford English dictionary, to look up the official definition of ‘sport’. Sport is “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.”

The traditional image of a gamer doesn’t seem to match up with this. How do you ‘physically exert’ yourself by sitting down and clicking buttons? Well, let’s now look at the definition of eSports. Dictionary.com states that eSports are simply “competitive tournaments of video games, especially among professional gamers.” Clearly the competition element matches up to the sport definition, but the biggest point of contention is; physical exertion. 

Doubters will point to the idea that to be a top eSports athlete you could theoretically be overweight and/or unfit. The same isn’t usually said for those who reach the top of more traditional sports. It’s hard to imagine the adonises of Cristiano Ronaldo or Lebron James standing shoulder to shoulder with an out-of-shape Dave from Halifax who could conceivably be an eSports champion, but then again, no one would have thought Andy Ruiz Jr could have a chance in beating Anthony Joshua only a short time ago. Yes, the nature of heavy hitting, heavyweight boxing is a world away from eSports, but the idea that you need to be athletic to be considered a sportsperson just isn’t the case anymore. In fact, it never has been. 

 

Games vs Sports

Look, there have always been heavier stars in traditional sports that have shot to the top, in cricket (Shane Warne), baseball (Babe Ruth) and golf (John Daly), but it’s undeniable that each of these sports require a huge level of physical strength (as well as mental strength) in order to reach the level they achieved. Perhaps where we should be looking is within the world of tactical sports, of which there are plenty that require little to no athletic prowess. Darts, for example, look at the greats; with few exceptions, it’s almost as if you need a beer belly to reach the top. Snooker, hunting, bowling, these are all considered to be sports, so why the controversy with eSports? Furthermore, is there an argument to say that eSports is in fact more of a sport than some of those listed above? 

 

The Power of the Mind

First and foremost, it’s important to know that eSports is a broad term. There are many types of games within the world of… well…games, or ‘gaming’ as it were. Ever since ‘Just Dance’, the Wii and Oculus Rift were released to the mass market, games that require more kinetic, full-body movement has grown. This can clearly be seen as physical exertion and it’s not as hard to argue against the doubters that these could in fact be considered more of a ‘sport’ than say… chess (which, incidentally, is considered an Olympic sport). But the majority of the most popular eSports games require the individual to maintain a high level of concentration, yes, WHILST SITTING DOWN. And THIS is the aspect that the doubters find the hardest to fathom. But there are clear arguments that there is a huge level of genuine exertion that comes with the territory of being an elite gamer, even if your game of choice requires being sat down in a gaming chair.

One study by the expert in prevention and rehabilitation at the German Sports University in Cologne, Professor Ingo Froböse, found that “eSports athletes achieve up to 400 movements on the keyboard and the mouse per minute” which was described as “a level of strain that the scientist had never observed in any other sport.” Froböse vehemently defends the notion that eSports are physically demanding, stating that: "The amount of cortisol produced is about the same level as that of a race-car driver… This is combined with a high pulse, sometimes as high as 160 to 180 beats per minute, which is equivalent to what happened during a very fast run, almost a marathon. That's not to mention the motor skills involved. So in my opinion, eSports are just as demanding as most other types of sports, if not more demanding."

When you think about it, it makes sense. Why? Well, we all know that you can be more exhausted completing a hard day at a desk job than finishing your morning run. We also know that you can have real physical responses to mental exertion and anxieties. So it isn’t hard to believe that to be the best gamer in the world, you must have to reach an insane level of concentration and be under some serious mental pressure (imagine £500,000 being won or lost on the click of a button). And that’s just the tournaments, think about how mentally exhausted you must be after practicing for over 12 hours a day. 

The other side of the coin is skill. Billy the Kid ain’t got nothing on these guys. Just take a look at the below to see how quick-draw McGraw these people are. Even if they are seated, the combination of hand-movements and skill is insane. Imagine how fast these guys can order an Uber!

 
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Overall, Matt Segal believes that “the lack of obvious physical demand will always be restrictive in terms of how the word ‘athlete’ is used. Until eSports receives wider recognition from within the sports industry, I’m not sure participants will be considered in the same light as traditional athletes.”

 

WINGopinion

Whatever you think, it’s undeniable that there are enough ‘sports like’ facets in eSports to claim that it is indeed a sport without being laughed at. In terms of eSports stars being athletes, this will forever be debated. In reality however, our perception of sports and the way they are talked about is really all down to one thing; the conversation around them. These days, conversations are owned by social (celebs, influencers, social platforms) and through traditional advertising. Hence we come back to adidas… let’s be honest, these guys are smart and they won’t invest in something that won’t bring them some serious return and as Ninja says on their page - ‘There’s never been a better time to blur the lines between the cultures of gaming and fashion.’ Maybe they will add sport to that too sometime soon...

 

Martha Evans, Client services manager at Wing.

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