eSports is a sport (here is why)

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Stop asking yourself if eSports is a sport. It is.

If you’re asking yourself whether eSports is a sport, you’re in the right place. By the end of this post, you’ll understand why pro gaming should be considered a real sport! Roman Kosolapov / Shutterstock.com

Imagine walking up to the arena, only to find massive crowds of fans dressed up in their favorite team’s gear, eagerly awaiting to get their ticket scanned and to rush inside to find their seats. After what seems like the wait of a lifetime, you finally gain entry into the building. The crowds are loud. The air is filled with excitement and anxiousness. You walk inside the main arena, and your eyes are instantly drawn down to the floor, where a huge shiny trophy sits atop of the pedestal, awaiting its fate. The 20,000+ seat venue is filled to the brim, and the fans can’t wait for the action to start.

Suddenly, the intro music begins, and the players start to make their way onto the floor. The announcers individually list out the players on each team during the introductions, followed by the playing of the National Anthem. Both sides then form huddles, pumping each other up and giving some final words of encouragement. The players are asked to take their positions. A fantastic display of lights and lasers begins to fill the arena, causing the crowd to yell and cheer. The music gets louder, and the countdown clock turns on. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… boom! The championship match is now underway, and the crowd falls to a complete hush.

If you thought we were talking about Game 7 of the NBA Finals, you’re wrong. And no, we’re not referring to The Superbowl or the Champions League Final. This is the Grand Final of the International, the annual Dota 2 championship tournament, where the best eSports teams around the world come together to compete for the number one spot. We’re willing to bet that some of you reading this weren’t expecting to hear that. But it certainly shouldn’t come as a surprise since eSports is one of the fastest growing industries in the world. According to the data analytics research company Newzoo, “eSports is the biggest disruption to hit our industry since the iPhone in 2007.” eSports is absolutely blowing up all over the world and has shown no signs of slowing down.

But to some people, playing video games is just a hobby. They couldn’t possibly fathom that competitive gaming could be an actual sport. Well, we’re here to tell you that they couldn’t be more wrong. Is eSports a sport? Absolutely! This article dives deep into this topic and explains precisely why eSports should be considered a sport. So why exactly is it a sport? Because of the following reasons:

  • Pro gamers are skilled athletes
  • The structure of eSports mirrors other sports
  • The eSports audience is massive and growing
  • eSports is officially recognized by the Olympics
  • eSports is a legitimate business, similar to other sports

By the end, we do not doubt that you’ll agree and understand why eSports is an actual sport.

But first, what is the definition of a sport?

Picture of gamers playing PC games in a large room

In order to understand whether eSports is a sport, we first need to know what the definition of the word sport is. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a sport is “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” Now at first glance, you might already be ruling out that eSports couldn’t be a sport because playing video games doesn’t involve physical exertion. However, this simply isn’t true.

eSports involves physical activity

There have been multiple studies and experiments that prove video games actually require physical exertion. For example, a study in 1994 showed that one’s basal blood pressure is raised while playing video games. Another way to look at physical exertion is to look at heart rate. A study in 2016 found that many eSports athletes showed signs considered to be physical exertion during training and competitive play, including elevated heart rates. You can also look at an individual’s basal metabolic rate (MET) to determine physical activity and exertion. In a 2013 study, researchers found that energy expenditure while playing games play ranged from moderate to vigorous intensity, ranging from 4-9 on the MET scale. All of these are telling signs that playing video games does, in fact, require some level of physical activity.

Now that we’ve gotten past showing that gaming requires physical exertion, we can dive into the other areas of eSports that prove it should be considered a sport.

Pro gamers are skilled athletes

Picture of gamers focused playing competitive PC games

The second part of the definition of a sport is that the activity must involve a skill. eSports pro gamers are perhaps one of the best embodiments of people who have seriously developed and mastered multiple skills. Playing video games requires a deep level of skill and technique. This is evident by the fact that one can’t just pick up a controller and instantly be good at playing a video game. The same is true with other sports like basketball, football, baseball, etc. You wouldn’t just pick up a baseball bat and be able to hit a home run on your first swing. Being a great hitter in baseball requires an advanced skill level. And it’s the same for video games. You don’t just win Battle Royale in Fortnite the first time you play. You must practice, learn how to play, aim, maneuver, shoot, collect items, build, and much more to be the last one standing.

And pro gamers don’t just master one skill. A 2012 study concluded that one learns and masters many skills while playing video games, not only one single skill. The best gamers have a variety of skills, which they have developed, honed, and mastered over time through countless hours of practice and competitive play. Pro gamers have mastered the art of multitasking, juggling multiple tasks at the same time to achieve their goal of winning a game. Just like any other professional athlete, eSports gamers have to be elite in numerous facets of their sport. Lebron James isn’t only good at shooting. He also plays exceptional defense, has some insane dunks, and is a great teammate. It’s the same for pro gamers. They must be good in multiple areas in order to even compete on the professional level.

When you think of elite professional athletes, some names that come to mind are Lebron James, Serena Williams, Tom Brady, Mike Trout, and others. These athletes are the top in their sport and can seemingly impose their will on opponents both physically and mentally. The term elite professional athlete has always been attributed to a person of exceptional physical ability and one possessing a set of talents that allow them to outperform the competition continuously. While professional eSports gamers might not be perfect physical specimens, they certainly have a remarkable ability and skill level. And just like traditional pro athletes, you will struggle to find a pro gamer who doesn’t put in an absolutely incredible amount of hours into training and refining their skills. In fact, we have seen an average training regimen for amateur and professional anywhere from a minimum of 50-80 hours per week, and even these numbers are a conservative estimate.

Finally, eSports gamers also have an insane amount of work ethic, dedication, and drive that other professional athletes have. Pro gamers live in an online world where literally the competition never sleeps. They are always under the pressure of being dethroned by another up and coming gamer. It’s common to hear that professional eSports athletes sleep an average of 3-4 hours per night, spending most of their day in front of a computer screen perfecting their craft. The training regimen for eSports athletes, both amateur and professional is intense, and in many cases enough to surpass even the most dedicated traditional sports athletes. Pro gamers are incredibly skilled at their craft, and there is no doubt in our mind that they should be considered athletes.

The structure of eSports mirrors other sports

Picture of a mouse for a gaming pc

The third part of the definition of a sport is that an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment. This couldn’t be more true for eSports. The structure and organization of eSports mirror most other sports, like basketball, football, and more. There are an incredible amount of similarities between eSports and other traditional sports that can be seen when you look at how professional gaming is organized and played competitively. From the players to the teams, leagues, and tournaments, there’s a ton of parallels with eSports and other professional sports. Let’s take a more in-depth look at these similarities by breaking down the components of a traditional sport.

Professional Gamers (aka the athletes)

At the core of eSports, you have pro gamers. These are the athletes who train and compete to be the best at playing video games. In eSports, most players focus on one specific video game to be a professional at. And luckily, the amount of choices in video games is plentiful. Players compete in a variety of games from League of Legends, to Dota 2, to Madden, FIFA and NBA 2K. As we explained earlier in this post, pro gamers are incredibly dedicated to their craft, spending hours each day training and competing to hone their skills. They exhibit some of the highest levels of work ethic in any sport we’ve seen.

Just like in some sports such as tennis and golf, some video games in eSports don’t require teams. Individuals compete against other individuals, rather than teams against other teams. Some of these games are Madden, FIFA, and NBA 2k.

Teams

Most top eSports video games are team-based, meaning in order to play, you must assemble a team of multiple players to play on one side and to compete together against other teams. Some of these games include eSports powerhouses like League of Legends and Dota 2. A single pro eSports team only specializes in playing one video game. For example, a pro team who plays Dota 2 will have five pro gamers who are extremely skilled at playing that game.

There are some obvious parallels that you can see between eSports teams and traditional sports teams. To start, each player on an eSports team has a different role, similar to how other sports have players in various positions. For example, in League of Legends, each team is made up of five players, each in a different role. These roles are AD Carry, Support, Jungler, Top Lane, and Mid Lane. Each of these roles contributes differently to the team and has a different specialty or skill that they bring to the match. This is also a similar dynamic in sports like football, where you have various positions like the quarterback, running back, receivers, linebackers, cornerbacks, kickers, and much more.

eSports teams also train together and spend a lot of time together, just like any other sports team would. In some instances, they even live together in the same housing, which is arranged and provided by the team. Pro gamers on the same teams form special bonds with each other that only they can truly understand. They support one another, stand up for fellow teammates, and in some cases, even have drama with each other. But what pro sports team doesn’t have their fair share of player drama?

And over the past few years, the number of professional teams in eSports has been quickly increasing. It’s a bit easier in eSports to assemble a team as you only need five players at the most (depending on the game) to create one. This is quite different from other sports where you need a lot more players, such as football where you need 50+ players on an active team or baseball, which has 20+ players on each team.

Clubs

Another part of the eSports structure that is similar to other sports is seen in the eSports clubs that have been popping up. A clubs is an organization, which has a collection of various professional eSports teams, usually spanning across multiple video games. While a single pro team only specializes in one video game, a club can have multiple teams, each that specializes in a different game. Clubs are becoming more and more popular as they are producing the top teams in multiple games. For example, Team Dignitas has eight different pro teams across eight different games. It’s the same with Team Liquid, who has 14 teams across 14 various games. Most of these clubs started off with a single team that competed in a single video game. But their success and the rising popularity of eSports has enabled them to assemble multiple squads filled with top players from around the world. Clubs are becoming increasingly popular and will soon be juggernauts in the eSports industry.

Leagues

When you think of big traditional sports leagues, the NFL, NBA, MLB, and EPL probably all come to mind. However, eSports leagues are also an integral component of the eSports ecosystem. An eSports league is a collection of teams that play each other over a period for a championship or title. They are the foundation of competition among individual players and teams. And eSports leagues are essentially the same as any other sports league. eSports leagues bring together various professional teams who play the same video game and organize competitive matches amongst those teams. 

eSports has its own set of leagues based on video games. For example, one of the most popular leagues out right now is The Overwatch League. This league features a collection of 12 pro teams, all who specialize in the popular video game called Overwatch. The teams are all from various cities around the world, which is remarkably similar to other professional sports leagues which have teams that each represent a city. The Overwatch League even has two divisions, the Atlantic and Pacific, which separates a team into one of two groupings based on their geographic location. The teams in the league compete over the course of the season and even participate in a postseason playoff to determine a winner of the Overwatch League. The 2018 winner was the London Spitfire, who took home $1 million in top prize money after beating the Philadelphia Fusion in the Grand Finals.

After reading this, you probably think that this format sounds familiar to most traditional sports. The top professional leagues around the world have very similar competitive formats and structures to what you see in the world of eSports.

Tournaments

The final area of eSports competitive structure that is also seen in other traditional sports is tournaments. Tournaments are pretty similar to leagues, but they are typically for much shorter periods, often spanning over a few days or less instead of weeks or months. In tournaments, a collection of professional teams or individuals are selected to compete against each other to earn the top prize. In a tournament, the last team or person standing will win.

Tournaments are extremely popular in traditional sports. The biggest sports tournament in the world, soccer’s FIFA World Cup, happens every four years and captivates fans all over the world. 32 teams representing various countries compete to earn the title of the top soccer team in the world. In golf, the Masters Tournament is one of four major golfing championships. Each year, the winner takes home golf’s legendary Green Jacket. These are just a couple of the biggest professional tournaments that occur in various sports around the world.

Tournaments hold the same amount of excitement in eSports, if not more. Tournaments are where massive amounts of money are won in the world of gaming. According to www.esportsearnings.com, there were 4085 eSports tournaments in 2017 alone, totaling over $113 million. The annual Dota 2 Championship, called The International, had a prize pool of over $25 million in 2018! The first-place team took home $11.1 million alone! As you can probably tell, tournaments are absolutely huge in eSports. They are where most of the excitement and drama happens, and will continue to be one of the focal points of eSports competition for years to come.

The eSports audience is massive and growing

Picture of gamers at a gaming convention under purple neon lights

One of the most significant indicators of eSports being a sport is the extraordinary number of fans that it has collected over the past several years. A huge part of sports is the fans and audiences who watch it. Sports have a huge entertainment factor. Sports would not be the same without the audience of passionate fans who watch. And it’s no secret that most traditional sports have massive followings. At its peak, the NFL had an average of 17.9 million people per NFL game in 2015. That’s a substantial amount of people watching professional games each week!

While eSports doesn’t yet have as high of an average viewership rate as the NFL or other professional sports leagues, the potential to surpass viewership rates of other major sports is indeed there. According to Statista, the number of frequent eSports viewers and enthusiasts amounted to 143 million in 2017. This number is projected to shoot up to 250 million by 2021! That’s quite a big jump and represents a ton of people around the world.

We’re not only seeing record viewership numbers online but also in-person. It’s common for large arenas to see sell-out crowds for the top eSports events. At the 2017 Intel Extreme Masters, one of the biggest eSports tournaments in the world, over 173,000 fans joined in-person to watch the event live in Katowice, Poland. That is about 100,000 more people than the average attendance for the Superbowl. That same event was also the most watched eSports event to-date, seeing over 46 million unique viewers! These numbers are absolutely massive and much bigger than the overwhelming majority of pro sporting events. And viewership is only expected to increase over the next few years. The sky is truly the limit with eSports!

eSports is officially recognized by the Olympics

If we haven’t convinced you by now the eSports is actually a sport, maybe this will help. In October of 2017, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) acknowledged that competitive eSports could be considered as a sporting activity, as the players involved prepare and train with an intensity that is comparable to athletes in traditional sports. That’s a huge statement coming from this powerful, leading authoritative governing body. The fact that even the Olympics is starting to recognize eSports is a sport is a fantastic sign for the industry.

The Paris 2024 Olympics Committee is seriously considering adding eSports to the lineup of sports in the Summer Olympic Games, meaning eSports may be on its way into the Olympics! However, it’s unlikely that eSports will be an actual competitive sanctioned event in the Paris Olympics. We’re still a ways away from that due to two reasons. The first is that there is no international governing board for eSports. For example, soccer has FIFA and gymnastics has the International Gymnastics Federation. eSports doesn’t have anything even close to this yet, but don’t expect that to last too much longer. As eSports gains more and more popularity, a governing body is bound to be formed.

Also, eSports includes a ton of video games that present violent gameplay, which is strictly against the rules of the IOC. This second reason will most likely prohibit games like League of Legends, Dota 2, CS:GO, and Call of Duty from ever joining the Olympics. However, there are plenty of non-violent games like NBA 2K, FIFA, and Madden, which could definitely be considered.

While there has not been any solid confirmation that eSports will be in the Olympics, we have a strong feeling it’s going to happen over the next ten years. The IOC met again in the eSports Forum in July of 2018 and plans to discuss the topic in more detail and future meetings.

eSports is a legitimate business, similar to other sports

The final reason that proves eSports is a sport lies in the fact that it’s a substantial booming business. And it’s only just beginning to really take-off. In 2017, the total revenue for eSports grew to a whopping $655 million. But here’s the kicker: that number is only expected to get bigger. In fact, by 2020, the total revenue for eSports is estimated to hit $1.5 billion!! This is mainly driven by the unprecedented growth in eSports fans and viewers across the world.

At the core of most professional sports, you’ll find a gigantic bustling business model. Think of some of the top professional leagues around the world, like FIFA and the NFL. FIFA is expected to make $6.1 billion in revenue from the 2018 World Cup alone. In 2017, each NFL team took in $255 million in national revenue, which equals $8.16 billion across the entire league. At the end of the day, these are huge businesses, raking in millions, and even billions, of cash.

Similar to teams in traditional sports leagues like the NFL, NBA, and MLB, eSports teams can make money from various activities such as live event ticket sales, team-branded merchandise, team website monetization, corporate sponsorships, advertising, selling media rights to broadcast live esports events, and more. Most of the revenue in eSports is currently generated from advertising and sponsorships. Brands and companies across the world are lining up to get their logo in front of the gaming audience. According to Newzoo, brands are projected to invest $694 million (a 48% increase year over year) in the eSports industry in 2018, which 77% of the total market. They’ll do this both directly, through sponsorships and advertising, and also indirectly, via media rights and content licenses.

These are some insane numbers! While they may not be as high as other professional sports just yet, the eSports industry isn’t playing around. They are serious contenders and are significant players in the sports business world. With its unprecedented growth, we do not doubt that eSports will be competing with the likes of FIFA and the NFL over the next ten years.

So have we convinced you that eSports is a sport?

This article has laid out several factual pieces of evidence that support this claim. If you look at the dictionary definition of a sport, eSports clearly falls under it. eSports requires both physical exertion and having a skill. Plus individual and teams play against each other in competition, which is the second part of the definition.

If you go outside of just looking at the standard definition of a sport, eSports draws enormous similarities with other traditional professional sports. Pro gamers are indeed skilled athletes. They train just as hard and compete for hours each day to hone their skills and techniques. The structure and organization of eSports also mirror other sports, which can be seen through the professional pro gamers, teams, clubs, leagues, and tournaments. On top of that, the eSports audience and viewership is absolutely massive and continues to grow at unprecedented rates. The biggest eSports event saw more in-person attendees than any Super Bowl ever has. The International Olympic Committee provided a huge endorsement to eSports in 2017, when they officially commented that eSports should be considered a sport. If that’s not the epitome of a fantastic recommendation, we don’t know what is!

Finally, eSports has become a legitimate business, much like other sports powerhouses like FIFA and the NFL. Brands and companies are lining up at the door to spend their dollars in the eSports industry via sponsorships, advertising, media rights and content licenses, all in hopes of reaching the massive gaming audience.

And it’s for all these reasons above that we genuinely believe that eSports is a sport. And hopefully, by now you wholeheartedly believe it too! Ultimately, sports are more than just a definition or a rationale. Sports provide us all with a sense of exhilaration and entertainment that can often give fans great happiness and also profound sadness. It is because of these highs and lows that places sports of any type near to our hearts.

Find any eSports fan and they will likely tell you that the game-winning kill in a Fortnite, CS:GO, or LoL match will get them out of their seats in excitement just as much as any other moment in traditional sports. If you’re interested in learning more about eSports, check out our other articles on “What is eSports?” and “Why is eSports so popular?“.

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