There is a big debate both within and outside the esports industry at the moment and it is focused on the question of is esports a sport? A quick scour of some recent Reddit posts reveals that there are a number of very vocal proponents that assert esports is a sport, while an equally adamant number of people maintain that it is not.
Many Reddit commenters on the issue use a similar definition of sport that states it is ‘an activity involving physical exertion and skill’ and it seems to be that the issue here is that of physical activity being central to the argument.
It is an rationale that has been previously cited by Olympic skier Ted Ligerty who argued:
“They are two totally different worlds. Physical sports belong in the Olympics. I don’t think esports belongs in the Olympics.
“…the Olympics is where you have to do some sort of physical exertion.”
Esports and the Olympics
Indeed, the issue of whether esports is a sport is central to the debate currently being heard about whether esports should be included within the Olympic Games at some point in the future.
IOC Marketing Chief Michael Payne stated on this very point.
“The Olympics has always been about physical action, not just mental, and it’s why chess and other intellect games have never been accepted.”
Along with some bafflingly illogical comments made by IOC Chief Thomas Bach, where he claimed esports of today would be unrecognisable in five years time and that the IOC could not promote violent esports, while seemingly ignoring the fact that Ju Jitsu, boxing, judo, fencing, wrestling, shooting and archery are all sanctioned Olympic sports, it certainly seems that the IOC have their doubts about esports validity as an Olympic sport.
That position simply enhances the view of those that say that esports is not a sport but there are a number of problems with that argument.
Firstly, as one Reddit reader pointed out, the notion of physicality in a bonafide sport is entirely subjective. Formula 1 drivers, for example, are not performing anything more physical than pushing a pedal or two with their feet and moving their hands.
Their real skill comes from reading what is happening around them and having lightning fast reactions to cope with an ever-changing situation. Is that not precisely what top esports players do at the highest level? Yet there is no argument over whether F1 drivers are sportsmen.
What is different here is that F1 drivers (and other motor sports competitors) are put under duress by the forces generated as they accelerate and brake, however these are simply a result of forces and gravity, they are not a part of the sport, simply a by-product of it.
Similarly, there are a number of other sports where the idea of physical activity for the person competing is limited or almost zero. Golf, bowling and archery are examples of sports where the user’s physical exertions are generally very low.
As the famous comedian Billy Connolly once commented on the people competing in the Luge “Is there a sport where you move less than that?”
Debate Rages On
The issue is Esports a Sport will rage on for some time yet, especially with esports potentially becoming an Olympic Sport of the future, or at least allying itself more closely with the Olympic movement, despite opposition it seems from key players within.
However as one Reddit User, electricelephant, succinctly put it;
“It doesn’t matter to me if people call it sports or not.
“There’s a competitive aspect, and people get paid large sums to compete and there’s teams that are well known. That sounds like a sport to me, so I’m fine with calling it a sport.”
“However, I wouldn’t call these competitors athletes. They’re players or competitors. Athletics are firmly in the realm of physical activity and exertion. You don’t really call racecar drivers’ athletes, they are drivers.”
The debate about whether esports is a sport or not will rage on, as it has about whether chess, pool or snooker are sports.
What is not in doubt is that its popularity is making it a very real alternative to real sports and that is an entirely different issue.
Image courtesy of ESL / F1