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The Great E-Sports Debate

E-Sports exists in tournaments usually focussing around fighting games and MOBAs. The tournaments encompass all kinds of games with the most popular being League of Legends. The game’s popularity has grown increasingly since its release in October 2009 launching it to the most played PC game ever in 2012 in terms of time spent in game. League of Legends reached approximately 1.3 billion hours in a single year, beating out the likes of World of Warcraft, Minecraft and StarCraft 2 combined.

Fun fact! If a single person were to log that many hours in game, it would take them roughly 148,000 years.

The popularity surrounding the game has grown so much that in 2014 it was announced that university scholarships were being given to players that could compete internationally on a team. The scholarship offered by Robert Morris University, Illinois, gave players substantial funding equalling around $19,000 per student. Another instance came about when NYU Game Center awarded scholarships to the fighting game community at EVO to study game design on their exclusive program. This begs the question on the future of E-Sports and the possibilities of even more scholarships for academic teams and other competitive games such as Street Fighter, DOTA 2 or StarCraft 2.

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The news was received with fervour from most in the gaming and academic community, seeing this as leap forward, providing new opportunities for students and a heightened sense of relevance for gamers. However it also dug up the long running debate on whether E-Sports is truly a sport or just the popular pastime of the public. While E-Sports is as popular as it’s ever been and continually becomes bigger, the case still seems set that no matter how international the tournaments, how huge the events and how dedicated the following, the debate always returns to focus on the physicality of it or lack of.

Without concentrating on the “E” part, the Oxford dictionary defines sport as ‘an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment’. In just about every definition I’ve seen of sport, it requires some amount of physical exertion and I doubt the long sleepless nights living off junk food and energy drinks amount to the same thing. However there is no doubt a high degree of skill involved. Nobody can argue against E-Sports being played for entertainment or that the community is astoundingly competitive. So why is it just the physical element that holds it back?

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E-sports are usually compared to that of chess tournaments or other intellectual sports, competitions that require high amounts of critical thinking and mental exertion but are not generally considered sports for the same reason. A similar debate arose circling Poker since being popularised on ESPN and has been used in defence of E-Sports after ESPN boss John Skipper dismissed it as ‘not a sport’ despite airing the Dota 2 International Championships on his network. An example of the view of E-Sports can be seen after one particular League Of Legends tournament that not only sold out stadium tickets but also attracted 20,000,000 online viewers, yet was looked down upon on HBO’s ‘Real Sports’ as nothing more than fandom from a bunch of “crazy” Star Trek convention-goers.

Despite the debate, E-Sports League Championship Series is now considered an official sports league and the US Government has awarded visas to professional gamers in the same way that international physical athletes have. From where I see it, it’s likely we’ll all be discussing this years into the future over breakfast and bashing our heads on our buttery toast, but for now it seems E-Sports is breaking ground and I hope it continues.