Sports have evolved a lot throughout history, but some things have always stayed the same. At the core of every sport is one of the same three fundamental reasons: we play games as a competition, to better our health or just for fun. Some sports are even older than you might think. Bowling dates back to ancient Egypt, jeu-de-boules was played by the Romans and a predecessor of modern golf was played in Medieval China (Chiuwan). Other sports such as wrestling or racing have been around since prehistoric times. But sometimes something new shows up. Esports is one of these things. But can we really consider this a sport?
What defines a sport?
When looking through dictionaries we can find different meanings of the word sport. Some, such as the Cambridge dictionary, dictate that it must include physical effort. Others don’t mention this physical aspect. But what does physical effort even really mean? Can the physical effort in golf, chess or snooker be compared to running a marathon or playing in a rugby match? The physical effort required in chess is negligible, but this is where the competitiveness comes in to play. Each player is bound to a set of rules. They must win, whilst adhering to said rules. There is no luck involved, only skill. This also applies to playing videogames. When we think of playing games the physical effort is usually non-existent, but not always. Right now, VR-games that promote physical exercise like Beatsaber are gaining in popularity. These games are competitive in nature, because players are trying to set high scores and beat each other. Another example is dance-dance revolution, which was extremely popular in the late 90’s and early 2000’s and is still played to this day in arcade halls.
Other games require a different kind of physical activity. For example, there is a whole community of simracers that try to replicate what it’s like to drive in a real race car. The steering wheels they use are incredibly advanced and feel lifelike. They give strong force feedback that an actual driver would feel. Some of these simracers even participate in endurance races that can last up to 24 hours. These games are starting to become so accurate that actual racing drivers are starting to play and praise them more and more. Some big names include Max Verstappen and Lando Norris (who are both current Formula One drivers!).
But semantics and the need for physical activity aside, why are so many people hesitant to call Esports, well… sports? One factor might be the fact that the athletes, for a lack of a better term, are not always physically present. When we think about computer games, we might think of someone sitting on his or her couch at home. But many of these big leagues are played out in front of huge crowds. Most famous are perhaps the league of legends finals. These events are MASSIVE and can rival even the super bowl in terms of spectacle.
Another factor could be the perceived lack of interest. The infrastructure to watch these Esports are not familiar with a lot of people. 73% of all twitch users are between the ages of 16-34. Of all users, about 65% are males. The viewership of videogame streams is increasing rapidly. In September of 2012 there were about 77.000 average concurrent viewers on Twitch.tv. This increased to 1.220.000 on September 2019 and has since about doubled to 2.244.000. There are, however, still huge groups of people who are very familiar with football, tennis, or motorsports, because these things are in newspapers and on tv every day, but not with Esports. There is almost no coverage for Esports in the media. If you’re not actively looking it up, you’re probably not seeing anything about it. Perhaps more coverage will lead to more understanding?
What do you think? Should we consider playing video games a sport? I tried keeping this blog as open ended as possible, as I want everyone to make up their own minds. I’m not sure what I make of it myself. The only real conclusion I think we can really make out of all this, is that the definition of sport is vague and open to interpretation.