Asking whether video games can be considered sports is akin to questioning if tomato is a fruit. Technically, the answer might be straightforward, but put a tomato in a fruit salad and you’ll raise more than a few eyebrows. Just like that, the debate around video games as sports finds itself in a complicated mixture of tradition, definitions, and evolving norms.
Let’s embark on a playful exploration of both sides of the coin without diving into the never-ending debate of “fruit vs. vegetable” (or in this case, game vs. sport).
The Digital “Yes” Side
Professional Leagues & Tournaments
The Electronic Sports League (ESL) and Major League Gaming (MLG) are just a few among the myriad professional gaming leagues that have sprouted up in recent decades. These leagues rival traditional sports in their organization, viewership, and even the prize money. “In every corner of the world, video gaming is exploding. And it’s not just the numbers; it’s the intensity and the depth of engagement,” remarked Sundance DiGiovanni, co-founder of MLG.
Training & Skill
Anyone who believes that professional gamers just “play” is gravely mistaken. They train. In fact, some players spend up to 10-12 hours a day honing their skills, undergoing mental and even physical conditioning.
It might come as a surprise to some, but the 2019 League of Legends World Championship garnered a peak viewership of approximately 44 million – that’s more than some of the traditional sports playoffs!
The Traditional “No” Side
One of the cornerstones of traditional sports is physical exertion. While esports athletes might experience the occasional thumb cramp or intense eye-focus, comparing it to a marathon or a football game’s physical toll can seem a bit stretched. “Sport necessitates movement and exertion, and although there is certainly a mental aspect to every sport, there’s no running involved in video gaming,” said an old-school sports enthusiast we spoke to.
In-Person Team Dynamics
While many esports are team-based, critics argue that there’s a distinct difference between coordinating a play on a digital battlefield and, say, a basketball court. The sweat, face-to-face interactions, and physical touches, they say, is what sets traditional sports apart.
Some traditionalists believe that the word “sport” has a historical and cultural significance that shouldn’t be redefined. They argue that while gaming has its own value, merging it into the sports category dilutes the essence of what sports have meant for centuries.
Why Choose “Yes”?
Here’s why one might nod affirmatively:
- Economic Impact: In 2021, the global esports market revenue was estimated to be around $1.08 billion, with North America accounting for $404 million. This isn’t child’s play; it’s a significant industry.
- Recognition: Esports are even finding a place in esteemed institutions. For instance, over 170 colleges in the U.S. have esports programs recognized by the National Association of Collegiate Esports.
Why Go with “No”?
If you’re shaking your head, you’re in good company too. Around 59% of Americans, according to the same study, believe esports don’t belong in the traditional sports category. Here’s why:
- Physicality: Traditional sports often involve rigorous physical activity – something many believe esports distinctly lack.
- Tradition: The centuries-old traditions tied to sports is something purists want to preserve. They feel adding video games to this list might dilute this legacy.
Prominent Game Tournaments in the U.S.
The United States has played host to several prominent esports tournaments over the years. As of my last update in September 2021, here are three of the biggest game tournaments that have taken place in the U.S.:
- The International (Dota 2): While The International is known primarily for its roots in Seattle, where it was held from 2012 to 2017, this Dota 2 tournament is the premier championship event for the game. The International boasts the highest prize pool in esports history, which was crowdfunded via in-game purchases. In 2019, the prize pool exceeded $34 million.
- Evo Championship Series (Evo): Evo is the largest and longest-running fighting game tournament in the world. Held annually in Las Vegas, it attracts players competing in various fighting games, such as Street Fighter, Tekken, and Super Smash Bros. Evo has been a staple of the fighting game community and continues to grow in both participants and viewership.
- Call of Duty League (CDL) Championship: Call of Duty is one of the most recognized gaming franchises worldwide. The Call of Duty League, established in 2020, comprises 12 teams from both North America and Europe. The league culminates in the CDL Championship, where the best teams compete for the title and a significant portion of the multi-million dollar prize pool.
While these are three of the most prominent tournaments, it’s worth noting that the esports scene is rapidly evolving. New games, leagues, and tournaments are emerging, and existing ones continue to grow in scale and popularity.
In the End…
Whether you’re a “Yes”, “No”, or somewhere in between, one thing is clear – the world of esports isn’t going anywhere. And while we might bicker about its classification, this debate underscores a broader truth: the landscape of entertainment, competition, and sportsmanship is evolving.
Would Babe Ruth have made an excellent Fortnite player? We’ll never know. But here’s a fun fact to part with: Did you know that more people watch the League of Legends Championship than the final game of the World Series? That’s food (or should we say, fruit?) for thought!