Esports is surely the next big thing. It is a world phenomenon and measured-in-millions industry. But is it on the same shelf as football, basketball or tennis? Is esports a sport? We’ll try to solve the case in this article.

When we say the word “sport”, what the average person thinks of? Popular football spectacle at a crowded stadium? Yes. A game of National Basketball Association? For sure. Any of the Olympics events? Checked. Yet, what’s with esports? It contains the word “sport” but does it make this genuine activity a sports one? Let’s roll into esports details.

What defines a sport?

To start the whole discussion, we need to answer the most important question: what defines sport? Oxford Dictionary clarifies it as:

an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.

Although the rules seem pretty clear, the categorization drops for some major problems. Many sports, such as cheerleading or dancing, fall for the category of recreation or competition, which makes some of its representatives pretty angry.

After all, Oxford’s definition somehow included electronic sports in the world of sports. Playing with a mouse and keyboard or the controller, undoubtedly requires some particular physical skills, the exertion of the brain and the proper connection between the muscles and the brain itself. Without great reflexes and specific dexterity, competing in virtual sports wouldn’t be possible.

Some may say, however, that the gamers themselves don’t compete in the real world, that they use created avatars and game personalities. All of this in the virtual world. But isn’t it all about most definitely real skills in the world of sports? Isn’t it all about the popularity and the main sense of competition as well? That’s just the beginning of the discussion.

What is esports?

Basically, esports is an activity in which athletes compete in worldwide popular tournaments and leagues. It’s a big thing, it brings the attention of the masses, it gains a lot of money. But that’s just one side of the coin that simply does not make the whole thing complex.

This time we will go from the detail to the general. So, what is esports, after all? What is the definition of esports? Let’s break it down.

As Oxford Dictionary explained, esports is:

A multiplayer video game played competitively for spectators, typically by professional gamers.

Dictionary, however, goes for the same words but used in a slightly different context:

(usually used with a plural verb) competitive tournaments of video games, especially among professional gamers.

Cambridge Dictionary, on the other hand, expands the topic, adding one key element to the definition:

the activity of playing computer games against other people on the internet, often for money, and often watched by other people using the internet, sometimes at special organized events.

So, summarizing the definition thing. To be considered as esports, the specific activity must contain four elements:

Is it enough to consider esports as a sport? Stay tuned. More to this discussion in the next part of this article.

Esports is a sport. Arguments

  • Esports is a pure rivalry. Just as any other sport.

Although sitting in front of the computer and playing video games is not the typical image that comes to mind when thinking of an athlete, the best people in esports business are surely skilled and talented. Simply better than the others. Isn’t it the whole point of sports rivalry after all? To be better than someone else in a particular activity?

  • Gamers participate in tournaments and leagues under specified rules, competing for specified prizes. Just as in any other sport.

Of course, the case doesn’t stop on competitiveness. The gamers themselves participate in various tournaments and leagues, they fight for various prizes, in both money and awards. That’s the main feature of the professional sport itself as well. Participants compete with others over something in an activity with established rules, conditions, goals, time frames, etc.

  • Esports requires a lot of skills and tons of practice. Just as any other sport.

But to be the best at something, you need a lot of practice. You need to evaluate and develop your skills. That’s the exact case with esports. In competitive gaming, as in any competitive sport, there is a big gap between professionals and amateurs. It takes a lot of time and effort to succeed in electronic sports. Sam Mathews, a founder of organization Fnatic, explained to CNN what does it take to be a gamer. Matthews said that

Esports really is highly strategic. It can be up to 10, 12 hours a day of gaming just to perform that one movement or skill shot better. We have a live-in coach, we have analysts, we have ... basically a huge support network.  
  • Esports has a mass appeal and a lot of fans. Just as any other sport.

The next major point of the discussion is the popularity and mass appeal of competitive computer gaming. While the traditional sports world has been regarded as the money machine since the development of mass media, the new kid on the block arrived lately. The kid wants its share of the pie and he gets one, that’s for sure. Esports betting grows as well, together with esports itself.

Newzoo, analytic services platform, pointed out that in 2018 there were about 395 million of total gaming viewers around the world. The report estimated that in 2022 the total number of electronic sports viewers should growth up to mesmerizing number of 645 million.

Source: Newzoo
  • Esports is a competition that gains a lot of money not only to players themselves. Just as many other sports.

According to the same market report of Newzoo, in 2019 the value of the esports market should reach and overtake one billion dollars, with a year-on-year 26,7% rise. By the way, this particular market is expected to be valued at almost two billion dollars in 2022. Just saying…

Source: Newzoo

Esports is not a sport. Arguments

  • Esports is not a real sport - it’s only a competition.

There’s always the other side of the coin. For some people, esports is not a sport and it will never be one.

ESPN president John Skipper has been very vocal about this case. In his opinion, esports is not a real sport. "It’s not a sport - it’s a competition. Chess is a competition. Checkers is a competition. Mostly, I’m interested in doing real sports," Skipper said, according to Re/code.

  • Esports fails to reach basics concepts of sport.

Not only Skipper shares this point of view. In 2018, The German Olympic Sports Federation (DOSB) released a statement in which the organization pointed out that it doesn’t consider esports as a sport. “DOSB failed to understand even the basic concepts of esports as sports” - the statement said.

  • Esports and eGaming are two different things.

That’s still not the end of the story. DOSB underlined the difference between sports simulation, just like FIFA or NBA 2K, and video games such as League of Legends, Dota 2 or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. The main purpose of this categorization was to distinguish “esports” from “eGaming”. DOSB focused on the matter of violence in games and the health risks they carry with themselves.

  • Esports doesn’t meet the criteria that allow it to become a recognized sporting activity.

The federation paid homage to the World Health Organization (WHO) ruling that defined gaming addiction as a mental health disorder. DOSB mentioned that “eGaming” doesn’t meet the criteria that would allow it to become a recognized sporting activity.

German Olympic Sports Federation may have a point, though the organization brings more to the table than it seems at first glance. The discussion should end one day when esports joins the Olympic family. Is this scenario even possible and, if so, when?

Esports at Olympics

This condition is maybe a pivotal one. Once virtual sports become an Olympic sport, they sure can become a sport for good and not only in public opinion. So how the thing's going? For now, it’s, of course, impossible to consider esports as an Olympic sport. Nevertheless, both sides of the party make plays for that to be possible in the future.

Japan had to pay homage to its impact on the progress of the electronic world throughout the years. Olympics in Tokyo will go down in history as the first one with an esports slice in it.

Intel World Open, an esports tournament that will take place in the lead up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, brings esports to the most important and the noblest sports event that has ever been. Players will compete in the tournament of Street Fighter V and Rocket League. Intel World Open is a big initiative but it still doesn’t hit the milestone for esports. Paris 2024 Olympics, however, may cause that the discussion will take on a new dimension.

The International e-Sports Federation (IeSF) Secretary-General Leopold Chung has told Reuters that IeSF is close to reaching an agreement with Paris 2024 Olympics about including esports as one of the demonstration sports at the Games.

For now, as a curiosity. Soon as an addition. In the long run maybe a full-fledged member of the family. Esports journey to the Olympics seems surely interesting and it may still take a lot of different and unpredicted turns.

Future of esports

The future of esports seems indeed very colorful and differential. The activity will surely go mainstream, even in the more prominent style than nowadays. Big companies, such as Adidas, Mercedes-Benz or Coca-Cola, already invested in the esports world but it seems only as of the beginning of the story. Esports audience size and the market gets bigger, so does the money in sponsorship contracts.

The other point of the discussion is a mobile one. Can esports go from consoles and computers to smartphones and tablets? Mobile games like Clash Royale, Vainglory or Clash of Clans only get bigger, more popular and more profitable. But does it mean that esports can go fully or at least partly mobile? Not necessarily.

Michael Pachter, a research analyst at Wedbush Securities, has told The Washington Post:

I don’t think mobile ever becomes a big deal. If you can watch a movie in Imax or on your phone, which one are you going to do? The best experience is always going to be on a large screen.

“There will be games that people want to play, I’m just not sure that we want to watch,” Pachter added. The Washington Post used a perfect parallel, “seeing mobile-based strategy games like Clash Royale as being more like curling or chess”.

So we're somehow back in the starting point. Is esports, not only mobile games but esports as a whole, more or less sports than curling or chess? Could the future bring us the answer to the riddle? For now, it's like reading tea leaves. No more, no less.

Conclusion

It will be valued for sure at one billion dollars someday. It may become bigger than most sports themselves. It may even go to the Olympics and it surely has everything to be considered as a sport. Competitiveness, talent, hard work, rules, money, popularity, fierce rivalry, etc.

Anyhow, esports adversaries may have a point as well. Gaming can be treated solely and exclusively as competition and not sport itself. Merging definitions of both things and finding the decisive common denominator may be too hard to handle. Hence, the discussion goes on and on.

It’s difficult to tell, at least for now, if electronic sports will be one day an undisputed, commonly accepted member of the sports family. But after all, does it even matter? Esports history indicates that this thing goes its own, undoubtedly huge way which doesn’t necessarily need to cross with sports. It will become the highway itself, anyway.

And what do you think? Do you treat esports as a real sport? Share your thoughts.