Sports have traditionally spanned many disciplines in the physical realm. From the tackling of a carrier in football, to the subtle tap of a golf ball on a long putt, there exists a certain traditional aspect of a sport that is universally held.
Enter eSports, a rapidly growing field in the gaming sphere that challenges traditional views on what a ‘sport’ really means.
The disbelief of eSports being considered in the same vein as traditional sports could be felt no more than on a fateful April day in 2015.
ESPN2, coveted and respected sports news channel, showcased a Heroes of the Storm match to its viewers. The Twittersphere lit up with sports fans’ incredulousness at the idea that this game, this ‘tournament’ was being cast alongside football highlights and ‘real’ sports.
Twitter users came out swinging:
“Are we calling video games a sport? Is that why this is on ESPN 2?? That’ll help America’s obesity problem.”
“Really hope whatever is on ESPN2 isn’t some start of a trend. I’ll be really disappointed if my kids get hype for this instead of sports on TV.”
eSports are changing the definition of what it means to be a sport, now gaining even more coverage on websites like Twitch.TV and Azubu as well as ESPN2. The game industry has also changed somewhat to accommodate for spectators. While gaming has always been traditionally social, the industry’s outreach to focus design on entertaining spectators and continue the trend to attract more.
The sheer amount of spectators to the game, also has a tendency to lead to sports speculators, or rather, people and websites that take bets on eSports matches and continue the push to give eSports relevancy. The sheer list of mainstream advertisers also gives credence to the idea that eSports are a logical investment.
If the popularity of the sport doesn’t seem like much, then the potential purses that competitors can pull away from championship events might convince some that eSports are a serious bidder for mainstream sports fans.
The website esportsearnings.com tracks some of the highest overall paid players and their highest paid competitive game. Peter Dager aka ppd walked away with nearly a $2 million purse from Dota 2 over the course of 32 tournaments.
Popular Saahil Arora is also a high earner, making a similar amount but making ‘more per match’ than Dager in some cases.
The question of performance-enhancing drugs has also been made, at least anecdotally, about the high performance of some players. If ‘striving to be the best’ has a tendency to push traditional sports players to the usage of steroids, the trend is similar with eSports’ use of Adderall.
Kory Friesen, who played with Cloud9 under the handle SEMPHIS admitted that his entire team had used the psychostimulant during the Electronic Sports League (ESL) tournament.
“The ESL comms were kind of funny in my opinion,” he said during an interview with a commentator. “I don’t even care. We were all on Adderall. I don’t even give a fuck. It was pretty obvious if you listened to the comms. People can hate it or whatever.”
Even the U.S. government recognizes eSports players as professional athletes when it comes to the issuing of visas.
Fans cite the need for similar tenants of traditional sports like condition, strategy and reaction time to give the argument that eSports are a legitimate endeavor for competitors and spectators. Strategies, techniques, after match interviews with over the top personalities, almost everything that sports has is baked right into the eSport culture.
Despite ESPN casually showing some warmth to eSports, ESPN President John Skipper has been openly ‘lukewarm’ about the rise of eSport culture. “[eSports] is not a sport, it’s a competition. Mostly I’m interested in doing real sports.”
A quote leveraged by detractors, citing that it just doesn’t seem ‘right’ for eSports to be given traditional sports credence.
There’s no legitimate reason to write off eSports for being “nerdy” or childish. Both require skill, practice, coordination, dedication, mental strength and capacity, and teamwork though one is squarely based on the physical vs the mental.
Skill is skill regardless of the platform, and watching talented athletes, electronic or otherwise, still calls the same level of passion and dedication as humanity’s favorite pastimes.
The main difference for now, seems to be the myths and tradition that physical sports have built up for their games. The sheer success of individual games in eSports makes the history discussion moot.
Rodney Figueroa is a returning staff writer for the Palomar Telescope. He’s previously written for now-defunct gaming website MMO Attack and talks a lot about issues pertaining to popular culture, video games and technology. Figueroa also serves as a teacher in real life, a professor of game design, his understanding and knowledge of how the industry works and some writing credits give him some amount of clarity into his articles. Well versed in social media and social affairs, he centers his writing around current events and opinion pieces at Palomar College. Before Palomar, Figueroa worked at a Visual Effects firm where he learned how to survive on coffee and determination, when not writing or working, he’s probably playing a videogame or indulging himself in fixing his car.
For more, visit http://www2.palomar.edu/telescope/2015/12/10/competitive-gaming-has-all-the-elements-of-a-sport/.