The first thing a person thinks about when he or she hears the word sport is something connected with movements, strength, competitions, hard training, and special physical abilities. Football, tennis, hockey, volleyball, ski race, weightlifting, track and field, swimming, and other activities are familiar sports. Also, no one is surprised by the fact that chess and poker are sports. However, many people do not consider eSports real sports because of its originality, paradox, special rules, the predominance of mental effort over physical, and the use of computers. The purpose of this paper is to establish the nature of the controversy, discuss advantages of recognition of eSports, and analyze opposing opinions on the problem.
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Esports is a competition in video or computer games in virtual space. The synonyms for this term are cybersports, virtual sports, electronic sports, and gaming (Jenny et al. 4). Although a large number of people have never heard of this competitive video gaming world, eSports are rapidly developing as a part of the entertainment industry. They have thousands of fans, superstars, competitions, tournaments, uniforms, the playoffs, and even different kinds of disciplines. All eSports disciplines are divided into several main classes, distinguished by the properties of spaces, models, game tasks, and the developed gaming skills of cyber sportspersons. For example, there are 3D shooters, simulators of sports games like FIFA, real-time strategy like StarCraft, and team role games containing elements of tactical games which are popular among people of all ages.
Online games appeared almost simultaneously with the emergence and quick development of the Internet; very soon, they became unbelievably popular among a significant number of people around the world. Computers can offer us several games that are modeling activities, such as racing, football, boxing, golf, volleyball, basketball, boxing, and many others. Esports competitions are about twenty years old, but their explosive growth is connected mainly to the launch of Twitch, an online streaming platform, which now rivals major entertainment sites for online traffic (Holden et al. 48). There are many parallels between traditional athletic sports and eSports. However, the nature of the controversy is the virtual environment and lack of physical activity. Skeptical people do not consider games as a sport since the actions performed by cyber sportspersons are virtual, unreal, and, to their mind, meaningless. It calls into question whether we can genuinely define eSports as real sports without any qualifiers or eSports could be considered mind sports.
Nowadays, the eSports industry is rapidly developing, the prize money for a competition can reach several million dollars, and tournaments are broadcast live on the Internet, gathering a broad audience. It has a lot of similarities with traditional sports; for example, it is commonly played between professional players and has a vast amount of viewers. There is a different quantity of players in a team in different eSports disciplines, and their number varies from one to fifteen. Like any other kind of a sport, eSports requires tremendous efforts, numerous training, outstanding ability, competitive spirit, intelligence, and fast reaction. According to Loy, sports are games, yet must be institutionalized within organized spheres (2). There are also the differentiating features, and similar aspects of play, games, and sport, described in the book, and they confirm that eSports is a sport.
Many contradictory data are proving or refuting the thesis of this essay. The fact that, in many countries, eSports has already been recognized as an official sport casts doubts on the opinion of the opposite side. It is legalized by many governments, and it became possible because eSports meet the criteria by which it can be attributed to the sport. Thus, it contributes to the physical and intellectual development of the human body, improves motor activity, and forms a healthy lifestyle (Jenny et al. 4). Also, it trains mental or physical abilities in the use of information and communication technologies. Video games mostly develop a memory of cyber sportspersons, their attention, quick reaction, critical thinking, and the ability to get out of problematic situations very fast. Game is the central part of eSports, and play is the foundation for all kinds of a sport.
At first glance, computer games and sports are entirely incompatible things. Nevertheless, human nature makes it go beyond the usual utilitarian framework and come up with something extraordinary. Therefore, computer technology, the pinnacle of modern pragmatism, became the basis not only for computer games but also to make it a real sport. Simple entertainment does not make much sense if it has no place for achievements and competition. That is why computer games turned into a platform for sports tournaments very soon. The competitions based on games are united by one exciting feature – the complexity or even the impossibility of implementing such activities in the real world. This fact provides attractiveness not only for the players but also for the audience. Even though almost all cyber sportspersons do not train in specialized educational institutions, there are several universities with eSports programs in the world. There, eSport athletes improve their professionalism in virtual battles, and the best of them earn real money.
Another argument in support of eSports is that cyber athletes must possess outstanding abilities. A moment can separate a triumph from a loss, so the reaction and the speed of thinking of a sportsperson play a crucial role. A high level of these specifications cannot be achieved without good physical and mental condition and training (Holden et al. 49). Also, not all gamers can become great cyber athletes: it requires a particular type of mind, and, possibly, talent. Esports are not weightlifting or running, but there are no distinct differences between them and such long-recognized sports as, for example, chess or archery. As for the psychological aspect, there are no differences at all. Esports athletes also aim to win; they have a competitive spirit, and, like any other sport, eSports are out of politics.
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On the other hand, many people in the world still do not recognize eSports and consider it only entertainment. Their position is based on the fact that for eSports athletes, the determining factor is mental abilities, not physical ones. They think that a true sportsperson should have strength, speed, endurance, aggression, masculinity, and, thus, have advantages over female athletes. Masculinity is synonymous with the sport for them, but in eSports, a fragile girl, non-athletics guy, and a strong man can be on a par (Hemphill 196). That is, theoretically, an eSportsperson is not required to have a sports physique or staying power. However, professionals competing at the world level always pay attention to their physical condition and form. Also, many persons do not recognize the digital nature and use of the computer for eSports. Nevertheless, if one were to consider a computer as a tool for a game, such as a ball, tennis racket, skates, skis, and other things used in traditional sports, then such an objection to eSports has no valid reason.
Esports can hardly be called something traditional and ordinary, although it originated many years ago and is spread all over the world. For example, the assumption that computer games are not a sport is challenged by highlighting the physicality associated with them and coins the activities as cybersport (Hemphill 197). To my mind, it is possible to say that computer games competitions have all the formal attributes of a traditional sport: there are teams, fans, tournaments, uniform rules, and broadcasts. Esports can be perceived in different ways: for people who are not ready to accept progress – it is not entertainment, for innovators and strategists – it is a unique sport. Depending on this perception, this statement can be considered as an opposition to traditional sports, or combined into one unit.
To sum up, eSport does not fit into the standard framework and does not follow all the rules. However, eSport is precisely the same sport as any other traditional sport. It is not a competition between people and a computer; it is a competition of two persons or teams, an intellectual tournament in which a computer is sports equipment or a space for a game. An understanding of nature and historical definitions of sport is at the heart of eSports recognition. Maybe eSports currently lack great physicality and institutionalization, but they include play and competition, are organized by rules, require skill, and have a broad following.
Hemphill, Dennis. “Cybersport.” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 32, no. 2, 2005, pp. 195-207.
Holden, John T. et al. “The Future is Now: Esports Policy Considerations and Potential Litigation.” J. Legal Aspects Sport, vol. 27, no. 1, 2017, pp. 46-78.
Jenny, Seth E. et al. “Virtual (ly) Athletes: Where Esports Fit Within the Definition of “Sport”. Quest, vol. 69, no. 1, 2017, pp. 1-18.
Loy, John W. “The nature of sport: A definitional effort.” Quest, vol. 10, no. 1, 1968, pp. 1-15.