I grew up playing a wide variety of video games on the Nintendo DS, GameCube, Wii, computer, and so on. I only saw video games as a form of entertainment and I didn’t think that it could be more than that. However, I was wrong because as I grew up, I found out about the behaviours and environment surrounding eSports. Some background information: Esports, or electronic sports, is simply known as competitive online gaming whereas traditional sports are known as competitive activities that involve physical exertion and skill, both of which can be played professionally. Esports game playing rapidly spread with the evolution of the internet and shifted from the arcade era to the internet era (Lee & Schoenstedt, 2011, p. 39). This lead to the creation of official competition leagues for eSport games (Hilvoorde & Pot, 2016, p. 15). Although there are a variety of different styles to compete in, eSports players usually compete in one-on-one events or in team-based events (Hollist, 2015, p. 825). This is comparable to traditional sports such as tennis or basketball. The most popular eSport events today are computer and team-based; some examples of the more popular games featured in eSport competitions include: League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2, Hearthstone, and more (Hollist, 2015, p. 826). Here are 5 reasons that made me see past the idea of eSports being just a source of entertainment, instead, I saw it as a “real sport.”
Physical Skills & Intellectual Powers
One of the most significant defining features of sports is the physical aspect – there is a general agreement within the philosophy of sport literature that all sports require the factor of physical skill (Hilvoorde & Pot, 2016, p.17). If there can be a competition based on an activity that involves physical exertion or skill, it is most definitely a sport. The big question:
How can online gaming be considered a sport if it is obviously a sedentary activity?
This was my exact thought whenever people around me brought up the idea of eSports being a “real sport.” According to the dominant societal perspective on eSport, it does not fall under the definition of a “regular sport” because unlike traditional sports, it lacks physical activity and does not contribute to public health (Hilvoorde & Pot, 2016, p.15).
Side note: if it is the physical aspect that is stopping people from recognizing eSports as a “regular” sport, would it then be easier to accept and to categorize Freakzoid, a Counter Strike player, as a “real” professional athlete based on the fact that he works out?
League of Legends was incredibly popular while I was in high school, and I decided to try it out for myself because a lot of my friends also played. From that day forward, I tried out even more online games such as Smite and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. My friends and the online gaming community had made those games look so easy but in reality, it takes a lot of practice and skill to be considered even “decent.” Games like League of Legends (multiplayer online battle arena video game) require fast reaction times and strategic thinking whereas games like Counter-Strike (first-person shooter video game) require skills similar to traditional sports: hand-eye coordination. Manuel Schenkhuizen, winner of the World Cyber Games (2004 and 2008) and the Electronic Sports World Cup (2005) describes eSport as a strategic game because in order to beat your opponent, it requires speed and strategic ingenuity (Hilvoorde & Pot, 2016, p.17). Let’s compare eSports to snooker and billiards – both of which are considered sports in society; they are the same in regards to physical skill: the body is an instrument for displacing or moving another external object. These activities all enable complex, coordinative skills, and the ability to displace the body and/or a tool that is used to displace an object (Hilvoorde & Pot, 2016, p. 19).
This short video of Counter-Strike shows that aim is clearly a skill that is important to master for first-person shooter games.
I learned in my kinesiology class (BPK 110) that no matter how much you exercise, a high level of sedentary time still increases health risks. Although this relates more to gamers , everyone (including traditional athletes) is affected by this if they so much as watch TV or use the computer for a few hours. However, video games such as the Wii provides an alternative to this problem because motion-controlled games require the body to move in order to control the game (Hilvoorde & Pot, 2016, p.21).
Chess is considered a sport in over 100 countries yet it is comparable to eSports because they are both sedentary activities. However, under the socially constructed definition of a sport, chess is not a sport because it does not involve physical skill whereas eSport are intrinsically related to dexterity and the mastery of motor skills (Hilvoorde & Pot, 2016, p. 18). Even then, society still refuses to acknowledge the flaw in their logic (the picture describes my emotions).
Training & Practice
Similar to traditional sports, eSport require training and practice as well; however, the conditions that gamers face are arguably worse than those of traditional athletes. The players on Team Liquid, a professional League of Legends team, practice at least 50 hours per week – the players practice together for 8 hours a day and they play on their own before and after that team practice (Jacobs, 2015). Diego Ruiz plays professionally for Team Liquid and he says that two of his teammates only sleep 4 hours a night and practice between 12 to 14 hours per day (Jacobs, 2015). NFL players may work 50 hours a week for 16 weeks out of a year, but eSport players have to constantly play to remain competitive (Hollist, 2015, p. 834). Riot Games owns League of Legends and they are an American video game developer, publisher, and eSport tournament organizer. Similar to football (or any other traditional sports) tryouts, professional gamers are susceptible to removal from their teams and the whole team is constantly competing to stay in the professional circuit (Jacobs, 2015). Riot is expanding its professional roster to include ten teams – this means that 30% of all Riot’s professional teams must compete to retain their status (Hollist, 2015, p. 833). This is Riot’s tournament structure: teams compete against each other and Riot regulates the 3 teams with the worse win-loss record where they compete with rival teams for a slot in the next series; the top teams have the chance to compete for cash prizes (Hollist, 2015, p. 832). There have been many cases of the pressure getting to these players. For example, after at least one player admitted to taking Adderall to enhance their performance in 2015, the Electronic Sporting League became the first major eSport league to perform drug tests (Hollist, 2015, p. 832). In 2014, Hai Du Luam, a 22-year old professional League of Legends player, continued his 5-hour practice sessions despite being hospitalized for a collapsed lung (Hollist, 2015, p. 832). This just goes to show how competitive and how much practice it takes to be a professional gamer. However, increasing interest by big companies like Amazon and Coca-Cola suggests that we may soon see regulation – regulating visas, creating a national player’s association, or reclassifying players as employees (Hollist, 2015, p. 846). Through my experiences, it is true that games like League of Legends require a lot of practice, I am horrible at League and counter strike compared to my friends who have played consistently for years now, but even then, they don’t consider themselves as good because of the high standards that professional gamers have set.
Audience & Spectatorship
I have watched the League of Legends World Championships once or twice with both friends and family and it was just as exciting as watching the Canada vs. USA hockey match during the 2010 Winter Olympics. The number of viewers and fans for national and international eSport competitions are high than many traditional Olympic sports (Hilvoorde & Pot, 2016, p.17). In 2012, League of Legends World Championship finals drew more than 8,000 attendants and over 8 million TV and online viewers and the tickets for the 2013 finals sold out in approximately an hour (Hollist, 2015, p. 827).New media technologies created an environment in which sport could be viewed, discussed, and watched in ways that challenged the traditional distinction between audience and participant; not only that but it has also created more opportunities to “attend” to sport (Rowe & Hutchins, 2014, p. 9). In 2015, 1.3 million people watched NBC’s livestream of the Super Bowl while more than 100 million viewers watch gamers on Twitch (livestream site) per month (Taylor, 2015). In 2014, the International, a premier eSport competition, drew approximately 8.5 million viewers at its peak and that is the same number of fans that watched the 2014 Stanley Cup finals (Taylor, 2015).
In 2013, 32 million people watched the championship of League of Legends on streaming services such as Twitch and YouTube; not only is that more than the number of people who watched the TV series finales for Breaking Bad, 24, and The Sopranos added together, but it is also more than the number of views of the 2014 World Series and NBA Finals combined (Taylor, 2015). ESPN broadcasted the Dota 2 International Tournament and League of Legends Champion Finals in 2014 (Taylor, 2015). I consider this a progressive move because the world of traditional sports and eSport have connected through ESPN, a channel that is widely associated with traditional sports. This is just the beginning because the eSport global audience grew from 204 million to 292 million between 2014 and 2016 and it is expected to surpass 427 million around 2019 (Young, 2016).
Like traditional sports, eSport is a spectator sport that also has its own stadiums all over the world. Additionally, another important similarity is that eSport also has commentators. Ones who aren’t afraid to show their excitement over tournaments.
I have always known of athletes getting a “free ride” through college or university (mostly through TV shows and movies). However, I have never heard of scholarships for eSport (until now). In 2014, Robert Morris University in Chicago gave out more than $500,000 in athletic scholarships to gamers and the University of Pikeville in Kentucky also offered 20 athletic scholarships as part of its flagship eSport organization (Taylor, 2015). An increasing amount of games are used in schools nowadays and the idea is that the combination of motor, cognitive, strategic and mimetic skills can enhance digital literacy (Hilvoorde & Pot, 2016, p. 22). However, one problem is that people see the athletic scholarships as an easy opportunity; many high school and college-aged students have even dropped out of school to pursue careers in eSport (Hollist, 2015, p. 831). When I watch TV shows and movies, I often recognize an activity as a sport because of the fact that one can get a scholarship through said activity; this helped me see that eSport is basically one in the same as traditional sports because education systems recognize it as an activity that is worthy of scholarships (just like “regular” sports).
Money, the last and the most important reason. The last factor that helped me associate eSport as a “real sport” is the very thing that drives our economy.
Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could just play video games all day and get paid for it?
Good news: you can! (provided that you’re “good enough” in this competitive job market and that you’re ready to suffer the tedious number of hours of practicing). This was the most significant factor for me because I thought of gaming as just a source of entertainment and didn’t think that you could make a career out of it, but if you can earn enough to support yourself (like “real athletes”) then why shouldn’t it be considered on the same level as all sports? To give you an idea of how much professional gamers make, the prize pool for Smite goes all the way to the 16th place and at 16th place, you win $54, 194 (Bednarski, 2015). That is more than the amount that low income families make in Canada. The biggest prize pool in eSports history is for The International 2015, a Dota 2 championship tournament, at $18,429,613 (Bednarski, 2015). The winning team, Evil Geniuses, were awarded $6,634,660 with each player in the team (5) taking $1.3 million each (Bednarski, 2015).
This is how the prize pool of Dota 2 compares to the prize pool of 10 traditional sports. Although it surpasses popular events like the Super Bowl, NBA Finals, and the Stanley Cup, it has yet to exceed the amounts of FIFA and MLB.
Esports generates significant advertising revenue opportunities because its consumers represent key demographics; League of Legends was reported to have had a higher viewership in key demographics than the NFL Super Bowl (Hollist, 2015, p. 840). Many organizations now sponsor specific teams, this includes computer hardware companies, furniture and marketing companies, and the U.S. Air Force Reserve (Hollist, 2015, p. 840). When watching the tournaments, product placement is effortless to spot (for a Communication student). Sponsorships also make up a part of the players’ salary; sponsorship work can take up to 10 to 15 hours per week and that is on top of the players’ 12-hour practice per day (Jacobs, 2015). Coca-cola, Ford, American Express, and many other top companies have provided multimillion dollar sponsorships and organizational support to top players around the world; these players are often those who earn 7-figure salaries and who have a large fan base (Taylor, 2015).For advertisers, interactivity creates opportunities for inserting brands into players’ sports media experience (Corrigan, 2014, p. 50). In addition to league salaries, prize winnings, and sponsorships, many professional players also make money through livestreams (streaming their video game matches in real-time) on websites like Twitch (Hollist, 2015, p. 829). Professional League of Legends player, Wei Han Dong, retired from professional gaming in 2014 to pursue livestreaming full-time because he earned over $800,000 a year from just streaming (Hollist, 2015, p. 829). This following example relates more to the average professional gamer: Diego Ruiz of Team Liquid reported earnings between $60,000 to $100,000 per year from his base salary, product sponsorships, and revenue from streaming (Jacobs, 2015).
Indeed, because sport is an inherently competitive activity, existing and potential audiences are almost compulsively divided into rival “camps” supporting and opposing teams, sport clubs and athletes… (Rowe & Hutchins, 2014, p. 11)
This quote applies to eSports as well, and just further goes to show that eSports belongs in the same category as “regular” sports. Now that you know the 5 reasons that made me categorize eSport on the same level as any other sport, here’s a video of Jeremy Lin, NBA Basketball player (yes, a traditional athlete and an Asian one at that), explaining how Dota is “just like Basketball.”
Bednarski, S. (2015). Top 5 Largest eSports Games and Their Prize Pools. XY Gaming. Retrieved from http://www.xygaming.com/content/top-5-largest-esports-games-and-their-prize-pools/
Corrigan, T. F. (2014). The Political Economy of Sports and New Media. In Routledge Handbook of Sport and New Media (pp. 43–54). New York: Routledge.
Dota 2 prize pool [Digital image]. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.xygaming.com/content/top-5-largest-esports-games-and-their-prize-pools/
Freaka [Digital image]. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.xygaming.com/content/top-5-largest-esports-games-and-their-prize-pools/
Hilvoorde, I. V., & Pot, N. (2016). Embodiment and fundamental motor skills in eSports. Sport, Ethics and Philosophy, 10(1), 14–27.
Hollist, K. E. (2015). TIME TO BE GROWN-UPS ABOUT VIDEO GAMING: THE RISING ESPORTS INDUSTRY AND THE NEED FOR REGULATION. Arizona Law Review, 57(3), 823-847.
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Jacobs, H. (2015). Pro gamer reveals the unexpected activity that takes up to 15 hours a week. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/league-of-legends-pro-gamer-explains-the-most-unexpected-obstacle-to-winning-2015-4
Lee, D., & Schoenstedt, L. J. (2011). Comparison of eSports and Traditional Sports Consumption Motives. ICHPER — SD Journal Of Research In Health, Physical Education, Recreation, Sport & Dance, 6(2), 39-44.
Magnus Carlsen of Norway, the reigning world chess champion, contemplates his next move [Digital image]. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/general/world-chess-championship-magnus-carlsen-sergey-karjakin-most-exciting-sporting-event-ever-a7436211.html
McNeil, V. (2015). Jeremy Lin talks video games at DOTA 2 World Championships. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DM25HIflfqo
Prize pool comparison [Ditigal image]. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.xygaming.com/content/top-5-largest-esports-games-and-their-prize-pools/
Revolution in video games [Digital image]. (2016). Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2016/05/31/sport/esports-is-professional-gaming-a-sport/
Rowe, D., & Hutchins, B. (2014). Globalization and Online Audiences. In Routledge Handbook of Sport and New Media (pp. 7–17). New York: Routledge.
Smite winners [Digital image]. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.xygaming.com/content/top-5-largest-esports-games-and-their-prize-pools/
Taylor, R. (2015). Rise of eSports is a Game Changer. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rich-taylor/rise-of-esports-is-a-game_b_6784174.html
Team Liquid co-owner Steve Arhancet observes the team’s daily scrimmages [Digital image]. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/pro-gamers-explain-the-insane-training-regimen-they-use-to-stay-on-top-2015-5
Viewers [Ditigal image]. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rich-taylor/rise-of-esports-is-a-game_b_6784174.html
Young, H. (2016). Seven-figure salaries, sold-out stadiums: Is pro video gaming a sport? CNN. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2016/05/31/sport/esports-is-professional-gaming-a-sport/index.html