I’m sure you wondered to yourself “can video games be a sport’?. This question has puzzled me as well, especially with the rising trend of e-sports becoming a huge billion-dollar business.
I decided to research the internet to best answer the question for myself and people just like you. Are you ready to find out the answer? Let’s get to it
The dictionary definition of sport is “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment”.Video games cannot be a sport as whilst there is skill involved there is a lack of physical exertion involved.
However, the discussion does not stop there as there are many ways where e-sports athletes and athletes are very similar and the wage gap between the two professions is only closing.
I will go into a lot more detail about the e-sport scene and the relationship it has with traditional sport and the similarities it shares and other ways e-sports athletes should be considered sports athletes.
Similarities Between Traditional Sports & E-Sports
In 2018 a famous gamer named Ninja was featured on the popular sports magazine ESPN, really bringing the topic of this blog to the spotlight. The truth there are many similarities from the competition, prize money, popularity, training and more.
One of the most integral parts of any sports(e-sports or otherwise) is competition, and video games easily check this box. one of the most popular games ever Fortnite had nearly 250 million players worldwide in 2018!
Making one single game have around 1/4th of the global player base of Tennis, so becoming the best player is no easy task.
Just like in regular sports, extensive preparation is necessary to succeed at the highest levels of gaming. Just like a boxing coach will analyse the tactics of an opposing boxer for hours, gaming teams will research the tactics of the opposing team and how they play to gain any advantage that they can.
Even in lower levels of play just like in regular team sports, if you’re trying to play a team game and go all alone you will get destroyed if the opposing team is working together, this is true for all sports, e-sports or otherwise.
Just like in regular sports competition is extremely important and necessary for success.
Sports and gaming are related with regards to athletic ability. Gaming requires a very specific skill set just like any sport. You simply need extreme levels of coordination to input the exact combination of buttons at the right time, is not as easy as it sounds.
This is perfectly demonstrated by the famous video of the Street Fighter 3 player Diago’s comeback which you can see in the video below. The player had 6 frames per to perfectly deflect 15 different hits with zero margins of error which caused him to win the game.
The level of precision in this video is unbelievable and reaction wise is comparable to anything in regular sports, it is considered one of the best moments in e-sports history.
Also, remember competing at the highest levels whether in E-sports or regular sports is very stressful and taxing to the nervous system.
This is shown by the German Sports University study which showcased e-sports athletes playing games such as “Counter-Strike & Leauge Of Legends “produce the same cortisol levels(bodies stress hormone) as a race driver with a huge pulse between 160-180 bpm!
Superb reaction times are necessary to succeed in either field, with the ability to quickly and efficiently analyse situations and react faster than your opponent is a key skill for both forms of athletes.
Check out this TED talk on “your brain on video games” where one study on how gamers who played fast-paced action games for 5 hours a week greatly outperformed non-gamers with how they tracked multiple objects at the same time in a research test.
For anyone who plays fast-paced video games, they wouldn’t be surprised, and clearly, this effect would only be increased with e-sports athletes.
You might think that professional gamers don’t do a lot of physical activity but you would be strong. The study with 1200 e-sport athletes mentioned earlier showcased that they are under consistent psychological stress and playing at the highest level is so physically demanding it can be considered a sport.
Confused? Let me explain.
On average e-sport players undertake 400 movements per minute which are incredibly fast hand-eye movements during a game. This is a quote from the paper.
“the stress hormone cortisol rises as much as when a footballer shoots a penalty kick in a Champions League final,”Ingo Frobös research of The German Sports University, Cologne.
This change in the bodies physical stress levels is due to the athletes maintaining such high levels of concentration, with super coordination and reactions needed whilst playing any competitive game at the highest level.
The study concluded that an e-sport athlete body should be correctly trained with adequate nutrition to ensure their body is strong enough for the task at hand.
Does this suggest E-sports are more like a sport then we first thought?
Teamwork is essential for both forms of sport, and just like with traditional sports E-sports fans have favourite teams that they follow. I remember Str8 Rippin from Halo 2/3 and some of the biggest teams right now are eUnited for Call Of Duty and Team Liquid; which is the highest-grossing E-sport team of all time with the majority of their income coming from Dota 2.
Making sure you have the right balance of players is essential to forms of sports, ideally, each player will have their specialised skills and jell as a team to become formidable.
To illustrate, in Halo you might have someone specialised with the Sniper such as SnipeDown in Str8 Rippin or someone who is excellent ar rushing.
Making sure you have the right combination of skills for your team is essential to success, but even more important is communication to succeed. Without the ability to quickly communicate you will have no chance against a team with good communication.
Check out this interview from an e-sport League of Legend team on the importance of communication.
Practise & Training
Now, this is an area where e-sports athletes surpass traditional athletes. An average NBA basketball player will train for 1 hour 30 minutes, with 2 hours of physical exercise averaging roughly 6-8 hours per day with 4-5 days per week working out.
Whereas, Robert Moris University which was the first University to give scholarships for E-sports who play games such as League Of Legends & Super Smash Bros has a gruelly schedule of 7 hours of daily practise time from 2-9 pm every weekday and they will usually play on the weekend!
It’s even more intense for professional teams, one team such team, Team Optic which was based in Chicago required it’s players to wake up and play for hours to record a good enough match to upload on their Youtube channel.
After that, the players are required to practise and do social outreach by live streaming for up to 12 hours a day! You can only imagine how physically taxing this must be for the body and why some argue e-sports could be considered a sport.
Sitting for such long periods has proven to be very bad for your body, MoAuba a big Fifa e-sports player is quoted as saying.
Studios have shown that sitting for 6 hours a day for 2 successive weeks can increase bad cholesterol and after 24 hours of straight sitting the ability for your body to absorb glucose is reduced by 40% which raises the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Gamers have even died by overplaying, one Russian teenager who was 17 died by playing the game defence of the ancients continuously for nearly 3 weeks.
Professional gamers put themselves through massive stress both physically and mentally which surpass or at least are comparable with traditional sporting athletes.
E-sports have rapidly increased in popularity in the last few years and are predicted in 2020 to generate more than $1.4 billion in global revenue and double its audience to nearly 600 million people in 2020.
Over 50 video games across consoles and PC are considered to be part of the massively growing industry, with 454 million global viewers which are expected to rise by 645 million by 2022 via Newzoo 2019 Global Esports Market Report.
These figures are already insane and I’ve seen the popularity of e-sports first hand where I used to live in China a massive shopping mall near my house displayed League Of Legends as it’s hugely popular in Asia.
In 2014 for a League Of Legends World Final, Koreas second-largest stadium hosted 45,000 fans! This is incredible and is comparable with some of the biggest sports in the world such as Football/Soccer and Basketball stadiums.
Peter Warman CEO of Newzo global market research and predictive analytics firm which focuses on esports said the following.
Esports is not just a fad and they will only continue to grow bigger and bigger as the market develops in the next coming years.
Entertainment is vital for any sport and video games are just as fun to watch as they are to play. If the figures aren’t enough for you to check out these top 10 crowd moments from a Call Of Duty event in London.
It’s comparable to an English Football crowd!
It was unthinkable not too long ago that a university team could field a competitive eSports team but times have changed. 81 schools form the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) and all but two offer college scholarships!
Robert Moris University was the first University to give scholarships for E-sports and set the standard for others to follow suit. Who would have thought you could get your College paid for via playing video games?
American colleges taking E-sports very seriously which does seem to suggest E-sports are much closer to regular sports than at first glance.
Nothing that showcases the rising trend of E-sports better than the US government decided way back in 2013 to issue the same travel and work visas for athletes for professional gamers who want to visit the United States for E-sports!
This was due to intense lobbying from Riot Games the creator of League Of Legends to recognise professional players applying for a P-1A visa to come to the states.
These recent changes showcase just how seriously E-sports is being taken and would be unthinkable even 10 years ago. Who can imagine how popular E-sports will be in the next 10 years? Perhaps E-sports will be more popular than some traditional sports?
Just look at this TED talk from 2018 arguing why E-sports could be in the Tokoyo 2024 Olympics.
I don’t agree with this as they should create their Olympics, but this TED talk wouldn’t have been possible even a couple of years ago and showcases how E-sports have gained both popularity and credibility and are closing the gap with traditional sports.
Do Video Games Help With Sports?
Now, would you be surprised to know that there have been strong links between video games and increased performance in sports?
Cognitive neuroscientist Daphne Bavelier research showed that playing video games for 5-10 hours weekly stimulates areas of the brain associated with memory, attention, motor and strategic planning as well as eyesight.
Games also help you learn, focus and multitask all skills that professional athletes would love to improve.
Froböse of the German Sports Instuite said the following about Football teams in the Bundesliga(German Soccer League) regarding video games.
“Many football teams in the Bundesliga can use these positive effects of esports to prepare players mentally, tactically, and for fast decision making and reaction for the real game. It is just a matter of balancing playing times and pauses, having adequate training, diet, and resting time.”Ingo Frobös research of The German Sports University, Cologne.
Other studies such as a study published by journal Communication Research. involving 151 college students had the students play video games that involved shooting for 20 minutes then immediately they had to fire at a 6-foot mannequin with an airsoft pistol.
The subjects with a pistol-shaped controller had completed 99% more headsets than subjects with played with a regular controller. Highlighting how video games have a very real-life application.
It can be clear to see how video games can significantly impact traditional sports athletes and improve not only cognitive function but the real-life application of the specific mechanics of the sport itself, which will only be improved with time.