Yes, eSports are sports – and here’s why

Credit: Blizzard

Katrina Williams
Deputy Culture Editor – Books

From Warcraft to Overwatch, eSports has grown into a global phenomenon.

Up until recently, bringing up eSports in any sort of sports-related discussion would be considered a mockery by the masses. However, as the popularity of eSports rises worldwide – with the industry making over $900 million in revenue just last year – we’ve got to ask the question: can you consider eSports actual sports?

First of all, what are eSports? Unsurprisingly, as the familiar “e” we all know from email might suggest, they’re electronic sports. They refer to collective tournaments organised around different – and usually popular – video games, whether their competitors participate alone or with a team. The usual goal is, of course, to win – and bring home the title. Sounds familiar, right? That’s where the “sports” part comes from!

Though the eSports scene has been thriving since the 2000s, when StarCraft and Warcraft III tournaments graced cable TV channels in South Korea, it’s only in recent years that the word itself has become recognisable in most casual internet gaming circles. This is partly thanks to Twitch, the online video-streaming website which sees upwards of 2.2 million unique broadcasters utilising its services. Many current players in eSports teams found their footing on Twitch, including the majority of those involved in the Overwatch League.

Running with 20 teams each, based in different cities around the globe, the Overwatch League pits teams of six against each other for four matches in the competitive mode of the game. Teams are knocked out of the running based on their performance, with the last team standing going home with the trophy. I remember the league being announced last year much too clearly – it was all over social media during its inaugural season, and it feels to me that the Overwatch League has been the “boom” of eSports in the last couple of years. It’s definitely fitting; one of the game’s most popular characters, D.Va, canonically found her place in the game’s story as a fighter within the “Mobile Exo-Force of the Korean Army” (with an amusing acronym of M.E.K.A: a nod to the robot she fights within), due to her experience as an eSports champion.

But popularity does not make a sport. The debate that rages over the internet is that eSports cannot be considered a sport because it isn’t “physical”. However, by that definition, how are activities such as shooting and golf (which require no more than strategy and aim) recognised as sports? In fact, it is a lot more common nowadays to classify sport as merely a competitive game between two or more players, with no specification on the physicality of said game.

Yes, the world of the video game is simulated; but the rigorous training and strategic planning required to perform well in the Overwatch League is, frankly, insane. Consider some of last year’s standout players on Widowmaker (a sniper who is often called one of the hardest characters to master in the game due to the rigorous aim and skill required to weld her and her “squishy” amount of health). Despite her drawbacks, players such as Soon and Pine were scoring constant quadruple kills against some extremely strong teams. With my 300-odd hours poured into the game, I’m lucky if I can score two during an entire match.

But, as eSports is only now growing, there’s a definite lack of safety procedures. During last year’s season, Shanghai Dragons – the bottom team in the league – released their training schedule. Team members had been training for 12 hours a day, six days a week, during the off-season. This raised way more questions than it solved. In a twisted way, it also brings to light how intense the field is because it wants to be recognised as an actual growing industry. We have a long way to go before eSports is a household name, but when it is – and I’m sure that it will be – I hope it’ll be much safer for its players than it is now.

It’s interesting to note that recently the one and only Celtic FC have begun their own eSports team, which has now been drafted to participate in the Call of Duty World Championships. With the world of traditional sport now leaking into the electronic, eSports is definitely an industry to watch – and personally, I doubt that it won’t be considered a sport for much longer.