Scouting opponents, talking to the coaches, and practicing as a team.
Sound like a sport? That’s because it is, just not a traditional one. It’s eSports.
Exploding in popularity in recent years, eSports has made a splash in media, and is now expected to surpass $1 billion as an industry.
All the money in the world however doesn’t help against the stigmatization of eSports in the western world. How could a bunch of computer nerds playing video games in the basement, possibly be considered a sport?
Times are changing.
Digitization of entertainment and the assistance of platforms that allow anyone to watch, such as Twitch or YouTube have contributed into turning what was once something niche to a massive industry.
“If there weren’t global broadcasting platforms like Twitch that allowed for the growth of global gaming influencers, I don’t know if eSports would be as big as it is now,” said Cat Tompkins, who serves as the president of CSULB’s eSports association.
Dictionary.com defines a sport as an “an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature.”
The word of contention there, is athletic. If we don’t categorize a pro eSports player like Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg an athlete rather than simply a player however, we shouldn’t define NASCAR legend, Jeff Gordon as one either.
It’s skill or physical prowess. Driving a stock car for NASCAR doesn’t require physical prowess as much as it requires skill, experience, knowledge, and reaction time.
The same holds true for eSports and video games.
I am a player for Long Beach State’s eSports Association, in their division one team for the game League of Legends. So much more goes into eSports than just playing some video games for fun.
We talk to our team’s coaches to schedule practice matches against other colleges such as CSU, Fullerton. Our team has discussions about giving each other ideas and goals, telling people to practice certain characters or to try a new style of playing.
After a win or loss, we watch a replay of the game and analyze what went wrong, what went right, and what can be improved.
In my downtime, I watch replays of professional eSports athletes or high rank players to study their play and mimic what they do.
All of this combines into something that is much greater than clicking away at a keyboard all day long, and something extremely similar in routine to other sport athletes, despite the lack of physical strain.
“I think in general there should be a mindset that considers eSports as a competitive sport,” said Tompkins. “There are already plenty of legitimate examples of eSports as a valid competitive sport, like Heroes of the Storm on ESPN back in 2017, League of Legends Championship Series, and competitive eSports at the Asian Games.”
Players such as Jian “Uzi” Zihao, who played League of Legends for team Royal Never Give Up, signed a contract with Nike in 2018, alongside LeBron James. While it can be argued that companies are simply doing business and only giving sponsorships to eSport athletes for money, it doesn’t change the fact that it does greatly help legitimize the industry as a real sport.
Public opinion on eSports is already rapidly changing.
“I remember when students would walk up to our booth at Week of Welcome and ask, ‘what’s eSports’ or ‘why do you guys competitively game?’” said Tompkins. “Fast forward to now, with the rise of Twitch and other legitimate programs on several campuses, we have people joining the organization seeking an entry point into the eSports industry and asking how they can be more involved.”
However, the west still has a lot to catch up to play compared to countries like Korea, which welcome eSports with open arms.
Thinking of people playing video games as a sport is a hard sell at first to a layman, but the amount of practice, time, effort, and skill it requires to go pro demands respect.
eSports are a sport. The risk of physical strain, injury, or a showcase of physical prowess doesn’t make a sport. It’s the competitive drive, the showmanship, and the personalities of the players that make a sport, a sport.