A hot topic of discussion recently is the categorizing of competitive video games as a sport. Can electronic competitions be categorized in the same way as other traditional, more athletic games by calling them sports? Various gaming competitions are only now starting to be featured on far reaching platforms like ESPN and other networks. Online media conglomerate YouTube has expressed interests in moving forward with a streaming service, not unlike Twitch TV, with competitive gaming being at the forefront for its launch. The level of exposure for eSports is quite simply at its highest right now. Yet, even after being informed about all of this, I find myself puzzled and confused by many aspects of this popular debate.
With all of the supporting info on both sides, I can’t help but keep being pulled toward one question that has yet to be answered: just how important is it that eSports, or competitive gaming as some prefer to call it, be looked at in the same vein as other sports? And even more importantly, who has really asked or needed for eSports to be considered sports in the first place? It’s the most basic of questions that would have to be answered in order to convince those on the outside. Yet behind the forum posts, Twitter arguments, YouTube videos, and NPR segments that have come out since the topic sprung into the spotlight, I’ve yet to really see any of this defined by those on either side.
Those who have been immersed in gaming news or aspects of the video game industry have come to learn a bit about the competitive gaming scene, myself include among them. There was a few years in my gaming life where I dove into the world of digital tournaments held in auditoriums and in hotel suites. Most of what was talked about constantly was character strategies, matchups, making the top 16, and who was it that had next on a nearby machine.
Yet in all of my time spent playing amongst some of the hardest of hardcore competitive gamers, I never once found a dedicated group of individuals who were constantly clamoring for competitive gaming to be consider a sport. Even now as an upcoming games journalist and critic, this is not something I’ve seen the gaming masses talked about constantly, at least not before Colin Cowherd had given his now infamous rant on ESPN.
And while some people might just see this as typical internet anger material of the week, I can’t help but view this as another display of gamers’ view on the subject. The majority of gamers just don’t seem to care if competitive gaming is considered a sport at all. It’s the same attitude that I see even from the electronic athletes and networks that are partaking in the display of competitive gaming to the masses, and it makes sense in the grand scheme of things. Why would any of them really care about defining competitive gaming as a sport or not, when not only are athletes still making money off of sponsorships and prize pots, and the networks are scoring high ratings on their coverage of events?
A lot of this is met with even more confusion because of the actions on both sides. Competitors in a variety of games aren’t really seen out there starting campaigns to get official recognition from platforms and networks of their past time as a sport, yet continue to compete and make plenty of money from competitions and sponsorships. ESPN president John Skipper has even gone on record by saying “It’s not a sport, it’s a competition. Chess is a competition. Checkers is a competition… Mostly, I’m interested in doing real sports…”, and yet despite this, the network continues to broadcast competitions and have huge viewership ratings on them. It all seems a little more than backwards thinking to me, until you really stop to think about all of this as a conflict of perception.
Video games are becoming more popular than ever before, and are viewed as the biggest form of media now. The presence of competitive gaming on networks like ESPN and other online media outlets is a testament to the continual growth of gaming as an industry and medium. It really is only the vocal minority of people out there on the internet, in forums and in social media, which are taking action to voice their concerns about redefining what “sports” should be considered. On the flip side, you have a similar vocal minority that want the term “sports” to remain a traditional definition of athletic competition. Yet the large majority of gamers who simply purchase games for their own personal enjoyment are either undecided or don’t care enough to pass judgment.
If you’re someone who likes taking solace in knowing that your favorite hobby is maturing with the times, then you can happily consider competitive gaming as a new form of sports. If you’re more traditional and see sports as something where you exert your body to perform in a contest, then you can be just as happy looking at sports without the presence of video games. Either way, the choice on how to ultimately define sports comes down to each of us individually, and is only made relevant as much as we want it to be. No amount of internet shouting or Colin Cowherd NPR ranting could ever take away the value of how we decided to view gaming or sports for ourselves.
What is your stance on competitive gaming and sports? Can they ever be one and the same? Leave us a comment below and tell us what you think!