By Orrin Farries & Scott Zielsdorf
Sports Editor, Rugby Hooligan, Hoop Head
What makes a game a sport? Competition is a prerequisite, a dose of physical adeptness is pleasant, and a sporting ‘clubhouse’ culture is also a boon. Videogames is an activity that fits the bill for all of those qualifiers, and yet it just does not feel right when it is insinuated to be of the same stock as sports like football and hockey. It really doesn’t matter what you think on the issue, because there are going to be strong proponents that will insist that they should be in the lexicon of ‘sports’. Scott Zielsdorf is one such strong proponent. There needs to be a line drawn in the sand.
Issues Editor, Birdkeeper, League of Legends Fanatic
The dictionary defines ‘sport’ as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill”. It also adds that an individual or team competes against others for the purpose of entertainment. As has been stated, competitive video games almost fit that description to a tee; with the only difference being the amount of physical exertion by the players.
The level of professional play in various esports can only be attributed to a player’s individual skill and ability to work as a team. A legendary esports player such as South Korea’s ‘T1 Faker’ making an impressive outplay to win a match is much the same as McDavid scoring an insane game-winning goal. Sure, they’re very different sports, but the level of talent, practice and dedication are very similar. We don’t say a pro golf player is any less of an athlete because their sport is less physically demanding than a contact sport like rugby. Why should esports be treated any differently?
It must be said that the only reason it’s called “esports”, is because it’s much cleaner sounding than “professional video gaming”. The English language abhors extraneous, superfluous, unsubstantiated additional syllables.
So what would be a watershed moment for esports’ inclusion into the realm of “real sports”? The declaration of esports as an official Olympic event would certainly tip the scales.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) have long pondered the inclusion of esports into the Olympic games, due to the massive draw of fans that esports generates in Asian and North-American markets. The clear motive behind their inclusion of esports is audience and profit. A final thought on esports in the Olympics: the neebly, gaunt, poorly-shaven video gamers would look ridiculous posed next to the chiseled Adonis-like statuettes that are emblematic of the origins of the Olympic games.
One could argue that the primary motivation behind all modern sports is profit. Both traditional and electronic sports leagues have managed to score huge sponsorship deals in recent years. It’s no secret that many large corporations are looking to cash in on major sporting events, take the Super Bowl for example, where advertisers spend upwards of five-hundred-million dollars every year for thirty seconds of attention from a captivated audience.
Returning to the dictionary definition quoted earlier, sports often involve people competing primarily for entertainment purposes. Modern sports are a show – a source of entertainment with billions of dollars behind them. In that regard, esports fill a similar niche to traditional sports.
Sports enthusiasts love numbers, from statheads compiling contrive lists of who is the GOAT based on advanced analytics, to the bar trivia legends who can tell you Ty Cobb’s batting averages from his rookie year to retirement, sport is a splendor of statistics. The danger in this rhetoric is that sports might allow numbers, of viewership and potential profit, to dictate the very definition of sport.
Statistics are pervasive of sport, traditional or electronic. Perhaps stat junkies would enjoy tracking top players’ K/D/As, kills, deaths and assists; a measure of match contribution in the game of League of Legends. Statistics can also be used for determining a healer’s percentage of damage healed and mitigated compared to their team’s total damage taken in the game of Overwatch.
It’s safe to say that esports involves many of the same trends that physical/traditional sports do. That being said, numbers are not the defining factor in esports –or regular sports for that matter.
Video games are a common retreat from the real world and a way to dissociate from the physical self. While winning is held paramount in the video games that are apt to have professional leagues, it seems ludicrous to hold these competitions under the same banner of tests of physical virtuosity.
If ESPN wants to make money off video gaming, no problem, put it on one of the channels that covers the other eclectic competitions hovering around “official sport” status. If the Olympics wants in on the esports popularity, fine, but don’t call them Olympic athletes. Call esports what it really is…fun.
At their core sports are about passion. The passion of the players to thrive in competition and give their all and the passion of the fans who cheer them on. That is no different whether they’re cheering for an athlete sprinting down the field, or a virtual character doing something awesome at the behest of the player behind the controls.
It can be argued that sport is defined by the physical requirements, the level of skill it requires, or heck, even how much money it generates. When you distill the meaning of it all, the spirit of competition and the passion of the teams are what should be held paramount. Isn’t that the basis on which physical sports are founded?
The thrill of seeing a team and/or player doing what they love. The games bringing joy, sorrow, and everything in between. The fans engaging in the competition and feeling a part of something bigger than themselves. That feeling is not lost on esports players or their fans.
Then esports should not also be lost to sport for the sake of petty gatekeeping by the likes of me.
I would like to thank our Issues Editor, Scott Zielsdorf, for taking time out of his section to combat me on the dialogue of whether esports should be defined apart from traditional sports. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this piece as much, and would like to hear what you think. Are esports more or less sport?