Researched by jordansPublished - February 7, 2016 Last Updated - August 14, 2017
Are eSports Real Sports?
eSports can be considered “real sports” by definition, much in the same way chess or poker can be. There are many parallels between traditional athletic sports and eSports. However, the virtual environment and lack of physical activity call into question whether we can truly define eSports as “real sports” without any qualifiers (for instance eSports could be considered “mind sports“).
The debate over whether an eSports are “real” sports or not is ongoing and somewhat semantic, with that in mind, we explore the ways in which eSports are and aren’t like more traditional athletic competitive sports and other mind sports below.
The first rule of eSports… It’s “don’t cheat” actually. Anyway, this video is exploring the question “are eSports real sports?”
What Makes something a Sport? If it has anything to do with ESPN, then poker and eSports are most certainly sports.
The Definition of Sports?
After looking at many different definitions of the word sport, an eSport can barely slip through the cracks as a sport. Like poker and chess, eSports are mind-based sports with limited physical activity. Some definitions use words like “usually” and “or” when talking about physical activity involved, which makes the case that sports don’t always need to be physical athletic activity.
OPINION: As VR and AR evolve, virtual sports will become much more advanced. At some point, it’s likely that eSports will be considered true sports, perhaps with their own subcategory of virtual sports.
After eSports were broadcast nationwide on ESPN at this year’s X-Games, the chances of eSports becoming Olympic sports increased. It’s theorized that eSports could be an Olympic Sport as early as the 2020 summer games.
There are 5 main categories and 35 criteria used when evaluating whether the addition of a new sport will be added to the Olympics:
Olympic Proposal (Resources Needed)
Value Added to the Olympic Movement
Institutional Matters (Rules)
How Popular it is
The business model behind it
The IOC Executive Board approved this in June 2015. None of the 35 benchmarks needed to qualify as an Olympic sport have anything to do with physical activity.
eSports require hand-eye coordination and quick fine motor skills.
Are eSports Players Considered Athletes?
According to the US Federal Government eSports players are considered professional athletes, in the regard that they can get a VISA to come to the US for the purposes of participating in eSports competitions. This has been true since 2013. It is a P1 VISA for gamers who are internationally recognized, it allows for up to a 5 year stay. Get that story from Forbes or the details from VisaPro.
What Skills do eSports Athletes Need?
Much like professional athletes, gamers spend large amounts of time developing new skills that will help them compete in their games. The core rules of a game don’t change often, but the dynamics change often as new characters and environments are added, or old ones are “balanced”.
Out of game, players are constantly going through different scenarios that may come up in a game and calculating their reactions. Preparation can only take you so far, gamers also need to have very fast reaction times and a brain that can keep up with the pace of the action.
FACT: Professional StarCraft players are able to do over 300 actions per minute during a match.
Sports Training in eSports
In early 2012, Robert Yip, an eSports psychologist with a background in coaching sports, physical training, and a master’s degree to back it up, was hired by Team Liquid to work with pro-StarCraft II player, Dario “TLO” Wünsch. They worked on things like:
Doing things away from the game that help in the game (yoga, physiotherapy)
Made players practice differently
Better prepared them for high stake games
More recently the DOTA-2 team Ninjas in Pyjamas hired a master graduate in Sports and Science to help players control their mental state at events. He also coached players on different ways to deal with struggles during the game that related to their mental state, like not getting tripped up by other players “smack talk”.
How are eSports Watched?
Nearly every big eSports tournament is streamed free to twitch.tv; a website providing a social video streaming platform for streamers. Twitch allows people to watch their favorite team or individual player while chatting with other spectators. Some people watch for pure entertainment; others watch to learn from the best and apply that knowledge to their own games.
FACT: As of 2016 Twitch.tv has over 100 million viewers per month. Viewership is increasing, not diminishing as time goes on.
How is the Viewership?
A major role of professional sports is to create an atmosphere in which fans can be avid supporters of their favorite team. eSports have proved that its following is huge. In 2013, League of Legends brought in the 2nd highest amount of views in a single event with (27 million) viewers, beating out every sporting event except for the Super Bowl.
Fans don’t just watch online, popular eSports events have sold out huge arenas such as the Staples Center, Wembley Arena, and even the Sang-am World Cup Stadium.
Do eSports Bring in Money?
When eSports first started the money just wasn’t there. Companies were hosting tournaments inside lobbies of hotels, and the payout was just a couple thousand dollars. As eSports started to grow, so did the money. In August of 2015, the DOTA-2 International tournament was played over 5 days, and the prize pool was $18,429,613,  which would make it the 4th highest prize pool in sports history, beating out the Super Bowl and The World Series!
Can you Wager on eSports?
Gambling is a huge part of why eSports are becoming so popular, and there are a number of different websites that you can use to bet on the teams. There are two ways to gamble in eSports; the spectator can either gamble with their in-game purchases (weapon skins, champion skins etc.) to make their character look aesthetically pleasing, or they can gamble with real money.
How Famous can an eSports Player be?
Unlike most athletes, who get their fame from being on television constantly, many professional gamers have become very good at marketing themselves as a brand. Matt “NaDeSHoT” Haag for example, a retired Call of Duty pro, started by making YouTube videos in 2010, now has 2.3 million subscribers and 1.4 million twitter followers and is considered to be a Red Bull athlete. Not only that but Matt has been in multiple big name articles such as the NY Times, Business Insider and many more.
FACT: In 2015, at 16 years old DOTA-2 player Sumail Hassan Syed became the youngest gamer to win over $1,000,000 in earnings.
Life of an eSports Athlete
The typical stereotype that all gamers live in their parent’s basement is false, at least for most eSports teams. Organizations are investing more and more into “team houses” where the entire team can live and play under one roof. The main goal of these team houses is to increase team chemistry by turning teammates into real life friends, because out of game relationships within the team directly affect how they play in big moments.
It is reasonable to conclude that eSports are sports in the same way poker, chess, or Magic the Gathering are. Thus, eSports can at least be considered “mind sports” from this perspective.
That said, while it is easy to see how eSports meet the definition of mind sports, it’s perhaps too early to tell if eSports will be accepted as a true competitive athletic sport, despite the many parallels. It’s likely that, as eSports become more popular and technology evolves, virtual sports will play a more prominent role in society. As that happens, it’s likely people will come to agree on the proper label.