As Chess Gains Recognition as a Sport, Can e-Sports be Far Behind?
Controllers and keyboards versus cleats and catcher’s mitts. As esports continues to become one of the most popular forms of entertainment on the planet, questions about its definition grow louder. The big one is: does esports count as a sport, or is it something else?
Arguments for and against both have merit. Esports competitors don’t exert a heavy physical toll on their bodies, which some people claim to be a requirement to earn the “sport” mantle.
They do compete on teams in arenas filled with roaring crowds, however, which gives them a more sport-like feel than, say, people doing water aerobics.
To get to the answer, we must start with the most basic question.
What Is a Sport?
Most dictionary definitions of sport include a physical component. Participants in sports must engage their bodies in some way to qualify.
Consider a few activities that make the cut and a few that do not. Full-body workouts like basketball and football obviously count. Competitions with absolutely no consideration for bodily ability, such as chess and checkers, might not, although the IOC does recognize chess
as a sport.
Water aerobics, while a good workout and easy on the joints, is disqualified due to lack of competition. Call it an exercise, certainly, but not a sport.
With the extreme ends of the scale defined, esports appears to be closer to chess than basketball. If you don’t recognize chess as a sport — maybe you have a bone to pick with the IOC — esports might not meet your standards, either.
This scale does not split straight down the middle, though. If it did, less strenuous sports like archery might not make the cut, even though sports outlets generally treat archery as a real sport.
Esports at least matches chess from a physical exertion standpoint, so going by the IOC standard, esports is a sport. Perhaps that’s why esports could make the Olympic scene
in the near future.
Let’s dive deeper into the specific merits of esports to determine whether this new brand of competition qualifies.
Gauging the Sports Merit of Esports
If sports require a physical component, let’s begin with the physical demands of esports.
Large muscle groups and cardio don’t play a major role in esports competitions. Outside of some niche VR scenes, players generally sit in chairs to use PCs or console controllers.
Those smaller muscles matter, though, and esports players can use them much more effectively than most. Quick-twitch responses in the hands, fingers, and eyes separate the elite of esports from the merely good.
From a mental perspective, esports players must make instant decisions much the same way basketball and football players do. While a point guard might look at the movement on the court and unconsciously calculate the velocity and angle needed for a successful pass, an esports competitor would consider the movements of other players on a digital map to determine where to aim.
Those decisions happen within fractions of a second in nearly all sports (chess excluded).
As far as governing bodies are concerned, the decision remains split
for now. Asian countries including South Korea were the first to grant esports a “sport” designation.
The United States agrees that esports competitors play a sport for the purpose of granting visas and other legal reasons. Germany, however, has landed on the other side of the aisle. Several more countries have made no decision on the matter.
Sport or No Sport?
No matter where they compete, esports players train with their teams, listen to their coaches, and watch film on the competition. Players must practice day in and day out, climbing through the ranks from amateur to professional as they hone their skills.
Anyone can start at the bottom of the food chain by playing in public lobbies for games like League of Legends and Overwatch. That’s part of the beauty of esports. Anyone, from young children to professionals, can join a game.
So, what’s the verdict? Does esports count as a sport, or is it doomed to live in between worlds? To answer, consider this short story that took place over the last five years at Disney-owned ESPN.
Back in 2014, the president of ESPN, John Skipper, said esports didn’t count
as a real sport. Two years later, Time
ran a piece detailing ESPN’s long-term commitment to esports. Today, ESPN not only covers and promotes esports competitions in its publications, but also runs an esports Twitter handle and YouTube channel, working hard to promote the sport’s future.
If it’s good enough for the biggest sports network in the world, it’s good enough to earn the title.
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