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Gaming: The Future of Sports?

The concept of gaming as a sport has long been debated. Many think that sports require some sort of physical exertion. For the vast majority of traditional sports, from football, to skiing, to hockey, this is certainly true. The common definition of what a sport is also serves to further this idea:

Sport: An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others.

Video games fit the latter part of this definition but fall down on the first. The question then arises to which half of the definition is more important to what  a sport actually is. Let’s examine a couple of sports and see how they slot into the above definition.

Take golf, for example. While requiring physical exertion in swinging a golf club, the capability to do so is not what makes one a good golf player as just about anyone can swing a golf club. The physical power isn’t what makes a golf player good, it’s their skill and precision. Compare this to soccer, however, and the differences are clear. The physical conditioning required to run for 90 minutes at a consistently quick pace is quite a feat. Not everyone is capable of that, and as such endurance and physical exertion are key to the sport. In addition, the sport requires plenty of skill, quick reflexes and teamwork.

Weightlifting however does not require a great deal of skill. It requires strength, training and dedication but no precision. Variances in weight lifting techniques are much smaller than variances in soccer or golf. The interesting thing is that no one would argue that weight lifting, golf or soccer aren’t sports, even though they focus on different parts of the definition. The only aspect that these all have in common is the final part: “in which an individual or team competes against another or others.” That is the key to what a sport is; competition.

Video games have this down to a tee. From the EVO fighting games championship to the current Magic: The Gathering World Championship, there are plenty of avenues for gamers to find organised competitions with exceptional prizes. The latter isn’t even a video game, though Magic: The Gathering Online has its own equivalent tournaments. The most lucrative and well known circuit of course is League of Legends. The so called eSport has been gathering strength with the winners of the Season 2 World Championship, the Taipei Assassins,  receiving $1,000,00 in prize money. Furthermore, League players from foreign countries are now considered “athletes” when applying for visas in the United States. 

The Taipei Assassins.

All of these point to a shift in opinion on video games as sports. They are competitive and skilful, and pit players against on each other on the basis of their prowess in the game, just as football players or golfers are. The fact that the game in this case doesn’t necessarily require much physical exertion is frankly immaterial. What’s key is the competition, and there is no doubt that that’s there.

Video games have an additional facet in their sporting belt: Streaming. Gamers all around the world stream their gameplay online to thousands upon thousands of viewers. Be it Sean Plott for Starcraft 2 or Kenji Egashira for Magic: The Gathering, there is content to be watched no matter what eSport you’re interested in. The largest streaming website for video games, Twitch.tv, is teeming with content. This is a testament to the fact that the interest in electronic sports is there. Fans back players and teams just like they do in conventional sports, and commentary, branding and entertainment are all present in droves. The only thing hold video games back in the sporting world is how new they are. Our social conventions and ingrained ideas tell us that sports are all about physical activity, but I, and many others, don’t believe this to be the case.

Are we at the point where we can put Tom Martell next to Michael Jordan or the Taipei Assassins next to the New York Giants? Not at all. But that doesn’t mean that that’s not the point we should be at. Recent trends lead me to believe that sooner rather than later we’ll see Starcraft, Marvel vs. Capcom and Magic on ESPN just as we once did. Their lack of physical prowess simply puts a greater emphasis on the practice and intense skill that these players bring to the table when playing their respective games. Hopefully I’ll soon be able to phrase that as “athletes participating in their respective sports.”

All in all, I feel that gaming shouldn’t be held back from the  world of sport simply because it’s not physically taxing. Before anyone says that this would make chess a sport I’d like to state that I believe that should be the case too. I believe that anything that pits people against each other in competition and is skill based deserves to be referred to as a sport, especially if it offers the entertainment value that gaming does when framed with competition. Hopefully we can soon shrug off the slight social stigma around professional and competitive gaming and embrace it for what it is; an entertaining display of dedication and skill that deserves recognition as much as any other conventional sport.



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