Up For Debate - Are eSports Actually Sports?

Written by Jon Sutton on Sun, Apr 15, 2018 4:00 PM

And so we come to a particularly thorny and well-contested issue - are eSports really sports? It’s a complex topic, but one which can be eternally discussed and only gains greater prominence as eSports continues to gather more traction worldwide. There are tournaments and leagues taking place practically every week with hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars up for grab. It’s a massive business, and the best in the world only get there with thousands of hours of dedication and training, but there’s a big question mark over whether we should consider them athletes.

We’ll start with the dictionary definition for sport, noun, with the Oxford English Dictionary defining it as “An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” And an athlete? That’s “A person who is proficient in sports and other forms of physical exercise.”

We’ve got the dictionary definitions then, but it’s debatable whether we actually find ourselves any closer to the answer.

To take sports as an example, there is no doubt that eSports necessitate an incredible about of skill, pretty much regardless of the game. Typically, the longer a game has been popular, the higher the skill ceiling necessary to compete professionally. Counter-Strike and Street Fighter professionals will have universally sunk countless hours into their chosen games, not in a casual capacity but exactly as an athlete would. Training for hour upon hour every day, perfect their craft and minimising mistakes in the hopes of becoming better than any other person on the planet.

For something to require skill is only half the story, but it does at least separate out the obvious non-sports. Playing roulette isn’t a sport as it relies on chance rather than skill, but something like Rocket League or golf certainly meets this specific criterion. So too does chess, an activity for which similarly vociferous discussions can take place. There are only a few things that arguably slip between the cracks of chance and skill, notably poker, which fans will often refer to as a ‘mind sport’ due to the lack of physical exertion.

Which brings us to the first part of the definition - an activity involving physical exertion. Considering most of us game to relax after a hard day’s work, it’s difficult to argue there’s physical exertion involved. Mental exertion, sure, but it’s doubtful you’re burning many calories while you’re doing your World of Warcraft raid. In fact, eSports one of the few ‘sport-related’ activities where participants are likely to gain calories over a match, thanks to the excessive supplies of sponsored crates of Monster energy drinks and other brain fuel.

Considering there are debates about even whether the likes of snooker and darts are sports, both of which seem to fulfill the criteria, eSports are an even further cry away from being considered sports. Nevertheless, some people are keen to see eSports classified as sports, a move likely fuelled because of the name, which both references gaming as a sport while simultaneously distancing itself with that telltale ‘e’.

For all of this though, it’s easy to get hung up on the lack of physicality in eSports, while often top-level sports is more about mental state of mind than innate skill. Taking darts as an example, which in terms of the competing tension and mental battles actually draws a lot of parallels with gaming, and the pros will tell you’re hitting 180’s for fun in the dressing room, but it’s a whole different kettle of fish to get up in front of 20,000 people and do it on the big stage with no safety cushion. eSports emphasises these very same strengths in a player, not only to be able to do the seemingly impossible but also to do it consistently and with a baying crowd watching their every move.

Where things get even murkier is just how seriously eSports are being taken as sports. Real world sports teams like PSG and Schalke football clubs now have their own eSports players and compete in FIFA, League of Legends and Counter-Strike, and are very much at the forefront of gaming as a sport. This raises the interesting question of when, or if ever, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) would ever go so far as to recognise eSports as sport. So far it’s been vehemently against it, and rumours that the 2020 Olympics could feature eSports seem wildly out of whack. Make no mistake, a sport is a sport regardless of whether the IOC endorses it, but it would certainly do leaps and bounds to help legitimise professional gamers as athletes.

The final point, and this one is a little more ethereal, is the distinction between reality and games, which for want of a better term, are virtual realities. Part of what makes a sport a sport, for me at least, are the tiny variables at play that are inherently impossible to recreate with any degree of authenticity in a gaming world. For example a dry crease on a cricket pitch, the very specific injuries or sprains that can come from a crunching rugby tackle, or even the wild winds that can sometimes make the difference between a near miss or a blast into the top corner. They’re imperfections in competition but they’re elements that lends sport its character, rather than a sterile environment that’s identical every time. I know these are absolute intangibles though, particularly for those not overly into sports, and you wouldn’t find this view anywhere a dictionary definition, for sport is often all about the intangibles, and why the best players don’t always win.

Over to you now then, in what will probably be quite a divisive topic. Are eSports actually sports, and why?

Are eSports Actually Sports?

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13:30 Apr-19-2018

WOW! I thought it would be a hard YES...!!!
eSports are definitely Sport!
To the people who said No; Did you know that the most of the countries in the world consider the game "Chess" as a Sport!?
Sports are the exercise of the body and MIND.
Jon said something about Olympics and eSports in the article...

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13:36 Apr-19-2018

...Well, I should say Olympic is irrelevant Because there are many sports that aren't included in Olympics yet. For example KARATE! (it will be included in 2020 for the first time).


I don't want to be rude, But the thought of Sports being ONLY physical is at least very "close-minded" if nothing else!


gaming...

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13:38 Apr-19-2018

Still salty they took out boxing and wrestling.

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13:56 Apr-19-2018

Boxing and Wrestling are in the games. They even added Women's Boxing too.
and about Wrestling; there will be no Olympics without Wrestling!!! ;-)

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13:44 Apr-19-2018

The physical aspect does give me pause to call them a sport, but they are at least games, like chess and football, or bowling, or darts.

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14:06 Apr-19-2018

Well, Video-Gaming doesn't always look like a Sport. And Maybe it's not.
When we play a game at the end of a day that we had been playing for years and we're doing the same thing over and over again and we are not improving anything, Not body and not mind, it's more like we're playing by Instinct not mind, That...

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14:10 Apr-19-2018

...That definitely doesn't look like a Sport.
But we're talking about eSports. That's definitely a Sport!

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14:12 Apr-19-2018

I really can't tell whether you're saying it's a sport or not

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16:35 Apr-19-2018

:-D :lol:
Well... As you said it yourself, It’s a complex topic...


I'm saying: "eSports are Sports".

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20:53 Apr-19-2018

You mention that sports is about the exercise of the body and mind but if i recall for most chess players they actually leave their home to play with other people to get even better but playing League of Legends doesn't require any movement besides going to the toilet every 4 matches also in recent news as well their is mice that has a macro for FPS games to have no recoil as well so if lets say that someone is playing CS GO valve wouldn't know if they were cheating or not while in a game a Chess the camera is on the board at all times.

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00:56 Apr-19-2018

With real sports there is a risk of injury, which adds to the experience...risk factor,with e-sports where is the rush from risk? What physical risk is there??? Pulled thumb muscle??

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06:52 Apr-19-2018

Well playing for 48 hours straight without proper movement, eating and drinking caused many people to die, but take it from me, they had some condition to begin with 48 hour marathons are NOT hard at all if you are well fed, drink a lot of liquids and get up to stretch now and then.

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10:13 Apr-19-2018

Psychoman, I've found the perfect world record for you. Currently, the Guinness World Record for most consecutive hours spent in VR is 36. This is your moment.

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11:30 Apr-19-2018

36 hours of VR porn. :O. Joke.

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16:01 Apr-19-2018

I don't have VR and I will fall asleep with the game available on VR, they are pure crap... When VR gets good games, then I'd do it.

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13:13 Apr-19-2018

I personally feel esports are more like chess than football or a physical sport like it. But there is a risk of injury. I believe one of the StarCraft II Champions had to retire because he was developing arthritis and couldn't keep up with the new guys anymore. It's on a much smaller scale, but losing dexterity to wear and tear is a concern for eSports.

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13:14 Apr-18-2018

Noooo,

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19:41 Apr-17-2018

I don't know, but one thing is for sure, it's not a long term investment. One game is not going to be there for years unlike Real Sports where they all are playing same games from last few decades and centuries. Still it's hard to be No. 1 EVEN in Video Games and it's a legitimate competition . Anyways, real athletic sports also doesn't have any direct economical benefits. And people love to watch people playing video games similarily like a soccer fan cheers in a soccer stadium.

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16:35 Apr-17-2018

If you have fun watching it, does the label actually matter?

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13:38 Apr-17-2018

eSports are Sports and a whole lot of e more...

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11:33 Apr-17-2018

Honestly, I don't even know if chess is a sport. I know the FIDE is a member of the Olympic Committee, but for me a sport has always been about BOTH the physical and mental aspects of play. Sure, eSports have a huge mental component, but however you look at it, the physicality is minimum.

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10:20 Apr-17-2018

Aren't you supposed to look healthy if you do "sports" on the regular? Well then take a look on Esports people and you'll see :D

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11:47 Apr-17-2018

looking healthy does NOT mean you are healthy and looking unhealthy does NOT mean you are unhealthy XD

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11:53 Apr-17-2018

I'd imagine there's a significant correlation between the two though, although definitely more in the former than the latter. If someone looks genuinely unhealthy though, odds are they probably are.

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19:45 Apr-17-2018

But you still can't be sure. I have seen many live examples , unhealthy looking one's being genuinely healthy and healthy looking one's being bombarded with health issues.

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09:51 Apr-19-2018

Have you ever watched baseball?

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19:47 Apr-17-2018

There is an e in esports. moreover it does make you tired in your wrists, neck and lower back and etc. As a casual gamer i suffer from these side effects, imagine the pain esports competitors go through. lel

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12:12 Apr-18-2018

yes but these injuries and bruises can all be summed up as stress injuries, caused NOT by engaging in any activity but due to staying in an awkward position for extensive periods of time. A couch potato can also suffer from wrist, finger, neck and back injuries, but cthat does not make him an athlete

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09:12 Apr-17-2018

I dont believe eSports as sports. Yes by definition any combination of physical and mental exertion COULD be sport but that is it. Chess players, gamers, can be called sportsmen at most, but never athletes, because that is what sports always trickles down towards, athleticism; an absence of which makes any activity highly dubious of being called a sport. Which is why every sport IS an exercise but not every exercise IS a sport

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09:19 Apr-17-2018

Also, every sport, no matter how absurd, revolutionary, unorthodox or unpopular, always will possess two traits, a significant degree of athleticism AND a a significantly large dependency on amount of intangibles that simply cannot be calculated, like friction, Humidity, gravity, fatigue, things that exist in a flux and ALWAYS impact the outcome, unlike in eSports in which a constant stable environment exist that has NO intangibles is is same all across , if that makes sense

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09:47 Apr-17-2018

100% agree with all of this. Often the beauty of sport is the unexpected, and this doesn't necessarily always come from moments of player skill, whether that's a slip on a soggy pitch or a particularly fast green that day. So too do they push themselves that extra inch to outrun an opponent, a feat that's not possible in a game.


Injuries as well, play a big part, with sports players pushing themselves as far as they reasonably think they can, dicing with their chances, something which doesn't really come into play with an eSport where basically everything is perfectly level and they all run at the same speed, jump the same height, etc. eSports is entertaining for me if I like I game, but it doesn't feel the same.

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11:24 Apr-17-2018

The funniest part of this is the predictive environment. Take the example of NBA2K14, where the Cleveland Cavaliers draft Anthony Bennett as the #1 that season, and, in-game, he goes on to become a Hall of Fame player. The "real" Anthony Bennett is the greatest draft bust in NBA history, while nos. 10 and 15 pick of the same year are C.J. McCollum, Giannis Antetokounmpo, exceptional players now considered as All-Stars

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19:33 Apr-17-2018

Very well put.

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08:12 Apr-17-2018

Esports are just esports, not sports, simple.

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23:09 Apr-16-2018

if it is counter strike global offensive then yes it is sport for me

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15:00 Apr-16-2018

-Do you practice any sports?
-Yeah, I play CS: GO, League of Legends, DOTA 2, etc.

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14:38 Apr-16-2018

Well they are obviously not sports but electronic sports.We should start calling them something like mental sports or
m-sports to make it clear enough.the term e-sports is a bit confusing.Nonetheless its okay.

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13:37 Apr-19-2018

Yeah like they are obviously more like chess or GO then like football or baseball. But most still require some high levels of dexterity and quick reactions. The "E" is the key part.

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10:12 Apr-16-2018

If you are competing in eSports on a high level of gameplay you would know how it is not only a game of the mind but also a physical game. Pro players will have their heartbeat rise above 140 bpm, sweating from the head and hands. Sure they might be sitting in a chair, but their bodies are having a workout nonetheless

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11:24 Apr-16-2018

what kind of workout is that? my heartbeat rise to the max also when i masturbate so masturbating is a sport now?

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23:06 Apr-16-2018

LOL! + 1 on rep for the laugh....

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06:14 Apr-18-2018

Thanks pal :)

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11:50 Apr-16-2018

Unlike your stupid comparison, going off the definition of a sport - activity involving physical exertion and skill competing against others, it should be considered a sport! You practice muscle memory for the flicks, train for hours, and when the game's on your body is on overdrive to win. Max focus & reaction speed

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15:07 Apr-16-2018

I might sweat and have a fast heartbeat when I'm writing an exam but exam writing isn't a sport

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18:05 Apr-16-2018

"SportAccord, the international sports federation association, recognizes five non-physical sports: bridge, chess, draughts (checkers), Go and xiangqi" If these are recognized as a sport....why eSport isn't?

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19:04 Apr-16-2018

But those sports doesn't involve in raging out and breaking things after that would cost them money they don't have.

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20:39 Apr-16-2018

I don't know man, you can tell on the face of those chess players that they hide plenty of anger, who knows what they do at home :p

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03:10 Apr-17-2018

That is at their home i have seen eSport matches where someone from the losing team ends up breaking the PC's used for the tournament which doesn't look pretty at least when the chess player is at home we don't know what he is doing.

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19:02 Apr-16-2018

They say the same thing about people who drive cars in circles wasting gas for hours on end. Apparently Nascar is a sport because their heart rate goes up and they ain't stopping for any bathroom breaks or snacks so buckle up and shut up.....sorry


What were we talking about again....?

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08:25 Apr-16-2018

Sport is defined by the dictionary as an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment. I can't believe there's idiots here who think it's a sport hahahaha

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11:39 Apr-16-2018

But isn't chess sport, too? Where's the "physical exertion" in that?

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11:55 Apr-16-2018

You move your hands. And even think the stragedy to win against the opponent. ESport games involves in moving your left fingers for the keyboard. And the right hand for the mouse.

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15:46 Apr-16-2018

I move my right hand when I masturbate? Does that mean masturbating is a sport too?

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17:45 Apr-16-2018

chess isn't really a sport though. Chess is a bit like esports, the only people who genuinely think its a sport are the people who are really into it or play it professionally.

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06:29 Apr-16-2018

Well there all sorts of shooting competitions at Olympics and those are just shooting from a standstill. No real physical exertion just Practice,Skill and Mental Work. So if that's considered a sport and is parts of Olympics why not Gaming? Cos eSports also has same reqs ,practice , skill and a focused mind

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17:50 Apr-16-2018

Poetry writing was once an Olympic sport, as was competitive architecture, music and painting. I suppose its the kind of thing where if you consider chess, or the things above sports then so is gaming. I consider none of them to be sports.

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00:35 Apr-16-2018

End of the day, it shouldnt really matter??
I'm a huge starcraft broodwar fan and all I care about is the fun, emotion, and impact this game and its long line of players have had and continues to have on the people who watch it.
You can call it whatever you want! I know what it is to me.

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23:36 Apr-15-2018

Well Twitch seems to think so...why not then?

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22:30 Apr-15-2018

Is chess a sport?

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23:27 Apr-15-2018

no, just like monopoly

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09:09 Apr-16-2018

Chess is far more of a sport than Monopoly, a game which is governed by dice rolls. Is it a sport though? I personally wouldn't say so.

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11:22 Apr-16-2018

You use your brain for Chess and hand movements and that's about it. So it's a sport?


Esports has people using their brain, teamwork and communication, professional carers, intense moments with their heart racing and they use their head and fingers. It's not a sport? There are physical and mental activities going on with it. Stress before going in and the intense sessions of playing at your hardest. It's not a sport?

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11:43 Apr-16-2018

I don't dispute it's a very intense way of playing games, but I think they just belong in a separate category to normal sports.


When every aspect is determined by lines of code it just doesn't sit well as a traditional sport for me, it's too artificial. The devs could just push a patch with low gravity and then suddenly everyone's leaping about like they're on the moon, it's too much of a fictional construct to pass as a sport, sports which are determined by actions in reality.


I just think eSports have been given the wrong name in order to sell it as a must-watch event, which has led to this discussion. It's Pro Gaming in my eyes, which is distinct from Sports.

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22:27 Apr-16-2018

Hence the word eSports. Electronic. They know it's artificial and can be changed with lines of code. But if a multiplayer game is well balanced and in a competitive setting AND the company is in support for such a thing, why not introduce it as a sport? it IS a must watch event just like regular sport is. It is gotten popular enough to make it to the Olympics.

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22:21 Apr-15-2018

Sports have athletes, esports have gamers. There's no need to compare both of these terms, way too many people are being triggered over this.

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