Other Sport

Is esports a real sport?

2017-10-11 13:16

Cape Town - During the 20 years I have spent in esports, a question I’m frequently asked is: “Is esports actually a ‘real’ sport?”

People then go on to say things like: "I mean how can you call sitting behind a chair staring at a screen for hours on end a sport? Then surely every single person with a nine to five job should be called an athlete and be treated like a rock star? Can you compare esports and the players that play, to the likes of a rugby player?"

 If you compare most conventional sport to esports, there are a few stereotypes that we as ‘ethletes’ have to deal with.

Let me try and break it down.

Imagine an overweight person sitting in a dark basement with empty cartons of fast food and empty cold drink cans at his feet. Now imagine a South African rugby player, chiseled from marble, hair made of the finest silk and, well, let’s be honest, just plain and simple Greek god material to say the least. 

Let’s start with the definition of ‘sport’.  According to the dictionary, ‘sport’ is defined as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” 

However, the original meaning of ‘sport’ as a noun in the 1500s was defined as a “pleasant pastime”; in the 1300’s as an “activity that offers amusement or relaxation; entertainment, fun” in the late 1400’s “a pastime or game”.

‘Sport’ as a verb in the 1400s was defined as “to divert, amuse, please, play; to seek amusement, literally ‘carry away’ (the mind from serious matters).”

So over time the very definition of ‘sport’ has changed, and since its most recent definition was coined before the existence of ‘esports’, as with so many other definitions that are changing with the inclusion of technology, this may become one of those.

If you consider the current definition of the word, these are the important aspects that define a ‘sport’: physical exertion, skill, competition and entertainment. 

The only missing portion from esports is physical exertion, in which case, chess should not be deemed a sport either. Perhaps in time the definition will come to encompass ‘physical or mental exertion’, who knows? 

So how can we start to compare esports to “real” sports?

Every single sport started out as a game.

Every team started out as a bunch of friends getting together to pass the time and have a little fun. It is when that game starts to become competitive and is a competitive means that it starts to become a recognised sport.

When a team winning a single tournament in a game called DOTA (Defence of the Ancients) takes home more money than Andy Murray took home for winning Wimbledon or more money than each player in the German football team took home for winning the FIFA football World Cup, you need to start asking yourself how and why.

The simple truth is, esports teams are now starting to be run like sporting teams. 

Their players have coaches, dieticians, psychologists, nutritionists and other specialists.

Esports players are starting to behave like sports men and women and are loved as intensely as some of the most famous traditional sports stars around today. Brands are starting to associate themselves with esports teams and players as they do with footballers and NBA stars.

Some of those very clubs are buying esports organisations and rebranding them to their own brand. Paris Saint Germain is one of them. Manchester City has also acquired themselves the talents of a young FIFA esports player.

By now you’re probably thinking, “Fine, perhaps they are ‘acting’ like sports people, but that doesn’t make them or esports anything even close to being a sport.”

What if I told you that esports athletes are exposed to the same amount of physical strain as that of any other “normal” athlete?

A gamer’s fine motor skills and capabilities far exceed that of an average person. They make up to 400 movements on a keyboard and mouse per minute. That is four times as much as any normal person. 

These movements are also asymmetrical because both hands are being moved at the same time – resulting in an incredible use of the brain, eye-hand co-ordination, and finger dexterity to mention just a few things. 

The cognitive benefits of playing video games has been researched by scientists and published in journals. 

The science is indicating that games may help the development of logical, literary, execute and even social skills, with supporting evidence continuing to mount. 

Research demonstrates long-lasting positive effects of video games on perception, attention, memory and decision-making. If you want more information supporting this, Google is your friend.

These tests have been done by scientists who are saying that the level of skill is far higher than any other sports including table-tennis, which requires a high level of eye-hand coordination. When playing, the amount of cortisol produced by gamers is of the same levels as a race car driver, and their pulse sometimes gets to as high as 160 to 180 beats per minute. That is as high as a marathon runner’s pulse.

All of these stats can be semantics and are ultimately irrelevant to the hard-core traditional sports fan, but the simple truth of the matter is that esports is a sport just as chess, table-tennis and car racing is a sport. 


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