Are they a sport? How should eSports be classified?

Video gaming is not what it once was. Think of the person you know who obsesses over video games more than you thought was humanly possible at Lawrence—spending hours in front of the screen, putting off papers to practice their “wavedashing” in Super Smash Bros. While many would argue that this person is wasting their time, there is a chance they could actually be preparing for a huge cash-in down the line.

Competitive video gaming—also known as “eSports”—has had a dramatic increase in popularity in recent years. According to Newszoo, eSports’ global audience reached 292 million people in 2016. That same year, the competition’s global revenue reached $463 million, and is projected to reach $1 billion by 2019. Fans and journalists alike argue that eSports’ rising popularity, as well as the skill and dedication of those who participate in competitions, make competitive gaming a sport.

I argue that eSports should not actually be classified as a sport. Based on the definition of the term provided by Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, an activity must require the following to be considered a sport: competition between participants who are in direct opposition to each other; and some level of physical and mental capacity, such as agility, strength or endurance.

Competitive gaming obviously meets the first criteria, but does not satisfy the second. Playing videogames at a high level requires physical skill and dedicated practice in the same way that mastering a sport does. However, the types of physical skills needed to succeed in video games are much different than from those of a sport. In order to succeed at a sport, one’s dexterity and finesse needs to be combined with a degree of strength and physical movement. For example, even though a sport like golf is more focused on form and technique than strength and stamina, it still requires a level of physical fitness to participate in the sport—one must be able to generate enough force to swing their golf club. the other hand, videogames do not, as the dexterity involved only requires that one is able to press buttons and react to stimuli on the screen.

Competitive gaming does not require enough physicality to warrant being called a sport. As a result, the amount of time that people who participate in it practice, or the money-making capability of the activity, does not affect whether or not it can be called a sport. Competitive gaming can be seen in the same light as chess competitions. Chess is popular, and professionals spend years mastering their craft. However, the physical aspect of chess is vastly outweighed by the mental component of the competition.

The question becomes: if a competition known as “eSports” is not a sport, then what’s in a name? In an interview with ESPN, founder of the IGN Pro League David Ting referred to eSports as “an aspirational sport,” similar to poker. While this phrase was used in an off-the-cuff manner, it does suggest a definition of what “eSports” can be labelled as; an “aspirational” sport as an activity that is taken very seriously by those who are interested in it. This interest encourages entrepreneurs to capitalize on it, and create more organized and legitimate opportunities for people to participate in these activities. This incentivizes people who want to participate in the activity to hone their skills to such a level that the activity becomes a lifestyle due to the time commitment it requires and its potential for monetization. However, increasing an activity’s potential for monetization does not make it a sport.

The American public’s interest in video games has changed dramatically in recent years; now, being skilled at video games can be a viable source of income for some. However, that does not change the fact that video games are not a sport, no matter what label they choose to use for marketing purposes.