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Should eSports be considered a sport?

The worldwide market for eSports is flourishing as thousands of fans fill up arenas to watch their heroes battle it out in their favourite video games.

In South Korea, undoubtedly a global leader in the world of eSports, football stadiums that were used to host the 2002 FIFA World Cup are being transformed to live venues for the world of gaming. eSports has everything you would expect from a sporting event: teams or individuals competing against each other on a professional level, mass audiences, commentators who bring the action to life and trophies for the winners.

If golf, darts, snooker or even chess are considered a “sport” in many places, what speaks against gaming?

Desk commentators providing pre-game analysis for a Dota 2 tournament in Frankfurt, Germany

There is no single definition of what “sport” is but the closest international agreement seems to be that of the Global Association of International Sports Federations (previously SportAccord). They say that sport should include some element of competition, not rely on luck or on equipment by a single supplier, not be harmful to living creatures and should not pose risk to the health of competitors. eSports fits all of that. They also identify five primary categories of sport: physical, mind, motorized, coordination and animal-supported. As we are going to see, eSports should belong to two of these: mind and coordination.

Surely, when people are asked to think of “sport”, gaming is not the first thing that comes to their mind. Sports like football, basketball or ice hockey are rooted in our culture and we see it every day. Some people think of the Olympics which are a massive event and usually host athletes who train very hard to be fit. However, just because eSports does not necessarily feature physical exhaustion, that does not mean that it doesn’t deserve its own distinct category within sports.

Heroes of the Storm at ESL Arena, one of the world’s biggest gaming conventions

Professional gamers train no less than athletes, with some of them playing as much as 12 to 14 hours a day. They play matches, discuss strategies with their coach and try to consistently improve their gameplay. That should not be seen lightly as a common misconception seems to be that anyone can be a gamer. No, playing a few games of Candy Crush does not make you a gamer. Some games like League of Legends or Starcraft are highly strategic and get updates constantly which requires players to be on the ball at all times. Many video games are evolving all the time whereas the rules of football have always stayed the same.

Anyone who has seen professional gamers play will be impressed by their reaction time and coordination. Going back to Starcraft, professionals get an APM (actions per minute) of as big as 600. That translates into hitting a key or clicking 10 times per second. Even in games that do not rely so much on strategy like Call of Duty or FIFA, gamers need to practice consistently to get that match-winning aim or master that one crucial skill move. The huge live audiences and the big prize money mean that the pressure is always intense.

eSports is expected to generate more than £1bn and reach more than 600 million people by 2020. Big sports clubs like Paris St. Germain are establishing their own eSports branches and singing top players to spread their influence. While it doesn’t fit our expectations of traditional sports, gaming already is and will become much bigger in the future so it can’t possibly be ignored anymore. It should be settled once and for all: Yes, eSports is a sport.