Typically, when people think of sports, they think of athleticism, physical exertion, endurance, hustle, and sweat. You go to a professional basketball, football, or hockey game, and expect the professional athletes to embody the purest form of these traits, almost as if they were the epitome of physique and at the highest level of physical talent an individual can reach. However, within the last ten or so years there has been a rise of a new type of “sport”, that in a way, opposes all of these connotations – E-Sports. E-Sports, a term for organized video game competition between, most commonly, professional gamers, which is spectated in a competitive atmosphere, has begun to be highly considered as a real form of sport. Although gaming has typically been referred to as an object of leisure, an activity overrun by the stereotypical geeky sub-culture who were always picked last in gym class, it has transformed into a hugely popular phenomenon that has seen explosive growth in participation over the last few years.
Although E-Sport events consist of a few professional gamers hunched over their keyboards exerting little effort or movement, while all actions between them can only be watched on a giant computer screen, they are tremendously popular and filled with an aura and feeling that is remarkably similar to any traditional sporting event. On loud speakers, the commentators are energetically describing plays and actions, blurting out random sports statistics, and explaining strategies and team drama. The audience is attentive, cheering along with every big and shocking play, and chanting as comrades for their favored team to take home the victory. The competitors are focused, instinctive, driven, and executing maneuvers only those with an amazing amount of confidence and technical skill can perform. It cannot be denied that E-Sports utilizes many of the same aspects any other professional sport would as well make use of. Yet, many people cannot truly grasp the idea of a video game as a sport. The fusion of nerds, video games, sports, and athletes just feels wrong, and for some, almost insulting towards the whole field of sports. Yet, the question now arises: Why does there exist this need to oppose E-Sports in the first place?
The argument towards whether or not E-Sports is a sport fills forums all over the internet, and I as well can easily sit here, defend E-Sports, explain to you what it is, and describe its similarities with traditional sports, but in reality, that is not the real issue at hand. The real issue is the fact that we as a society must feel the need to even ask the question, “is E-Sports a real sport?” We have this tendency to question things that are unconventional and different, to feel uncomfortable with it, and to stubbornly restrain it from deeply rooted and well-established labels for reasons that are inconsistent and illogical. The argument of E-Sports as a sport is an example of this. So, instead of giving reason ‘for’ E-Sports, instead I will continue on to deconstruct the main sources of opposition that exists against E-Sports, to showcase that they are mainly sparked by social and stereotypical matters, and not by arguments that are credible or rational.
I believe one major reason to why there exists in many people this inner-conflict to label professional online gaming as a form of sport, is due to a fundamental flaw in how society has grown to define a sport. The definition of ‘sport’, as defined by Oxford Dictionaries:
“an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” (‘Sport’, Oxford Dictionaries)
The issue with such a definition revolves around the word physical. Is it really a requirement for a game or activity to be physical in order to be considered as a sport? Although professional gamers exert a tremendous amount of skill, talent, and strategy when in competition, requiring skills that only players who’ve practised, trained, and worked tirelessly through-out their lives to perform successfully, critics still cannot get past the lack of physicality incorporated within online gaming. However, I do not believe physicality is actually a core aspect of all sports. Instead, it is a peripheral trait that is prevalent only due to its entertainment value when combined with competition, as it is usually more enjoyable to spectate an intense, aggressive, and physical activity, such as football, instead of one that is passive or strategic, such as chess. If a person were to argue against me and say physicality is in fact a core aspect, then how would minimally physical and passive activities such as Golf or Curling be commonly recognized as forms of sport? I believe that physical exertion has become a false stereotype to the field of sports, something we have grown to adopt as the truth simply due to its prevalence, and not a matter to how we should differ a sport from any other activity.
In addition to possessing a false definition, many people who oppose E-sports also possess a significant flaw in how they judge, label, and rigidly define activities and other people. Two cultural labels that most notably showcase this, as they have sparked substantial opposition towards the matter of E-Sports are ‘jocks’ and ‘geeks’. Jocks and geeks are two, out of many, labels that are most commonly known for rigidly structuring youth into distinct cultural stereotypes. Commonly, “jock” is used interchangeably with “athlete” while geeks, typically considered as scrawny, awkward, and physically weak, are considered as the furthest cultural label from an athlete. Although these rigid labels are becoming ideas of the past, a deeply rooted matter such as sports is still largely influenced by such cultural labels. Since video games are more so tactical instead of physical, the last several decades have tended to link playing digital games with geeks, and not to jocks or athletes. Thus, E-Sports is a completely contradicting concept, meshing online gaming as a sport and idolizing professional gamers as athletes. This is why so many feel uncomfortable with E-Sports; why most sports pundits and analysts, who are typically of an older generation, continually ridicule professional gaming. (Real Sports) With that said, the contemporary world has become tremendously hybridized and complex as of recently, and classic stereotypes and cultural labels have become far too simple and rigid to effectively categorize individuals. Now, all stereotypes and labels of identity, whether it be jocks, nerds, goths, atheists, homosexuals, etc., are being shaped and manipulated in diverse ways, which makes it ineffective and inadequate to strictly place particular activities or traits into certain cultures. It would be greatly ignorant to say that “online gaming is only for nerds,” as the gaming community consists of many types of people, from all over the world, and from completely different cultures. Thus, to argue against E-Sports because of online gaming’s connotations towards geeks and nerds, would be an argument that is dated and irrelevant.
In reality, it does not matter whether an activity is physical and played only by those who are athletic in order to be called a sport; all that really matters is whether the activity has the potential for high engagement, popularity, and profit. Sports are meant to entertain and to be a way to engage a person in the activities that interest them. For some people, this activity may be basketball, golf, or hockey, but for others, it may be gaming. E-Sports allows for those that are interested in gaming to experience the competitive nature and compelling emotions that sports can bring to a fan or spectator. These emotions and experiences are not restricted by cultural labels or stereotypes, and if a person were to approach E-sports with an impartial, open, and unbiased mentality, they would discover E-Sports to be as much a sport as anything else.