This article title no doubt prompted one of two reactions from most of the people who read it. On one hand, a lot of people probably said, “that makes sense to me” when it comes to esports being considered valid sports, but on the other hand, I also know a great many also groaned and started going on about how “the whole world is getting too digital and soft.” Now there will be a lot of sports purists who will hold the view that esports are not legitimate sports, and I could potentially see an argument for that point of view if you can provide your own substantial reasoning in favor of it, but I encourage you to open your mind to the possibility as I present the case for esports.
Esports is an overarching term for a variety of gaming competitions spanning everything from Fortnite to League of Legends. Professional players from all over the world compete in these competitions, showing a display of skill and talent in their respective fields. But I suppose the main issue is not explaining what esports are, but rather defining what a qualifies an activity as a sport to begin with.
What is a sport? I would define sports as, “An activity in which there is a level of definitive competition and a method by which one can win.” Sports are also often defined by the presence of an expression of skill that can separate people apart from others within their same niche. It is because of this expression of skill that people often associate sports with a level of physicality.
So do esports fit these qualifications? I would argue that they do and to test this I am going to use League of Legends (LoL) as an example. The game of is, by nature, competitive, anyone who has ever played this game can attest to that truth. In fact, the most recent LoL professional tournament, the Mid-Season Invitational (MSI), brought together competition from 11 different regions across the world and drew in nearly 48.2 million hours of viewership, the final match drawing in over 2.1 million viewers. For the game being in just its 12th season, these numbers are comparable to those of many other professional sports, with a global reach that I would claim is potentially second only to soccer. So as it comes to competition, I would argue that the nature of the game is competitive to the point where it can be played and even draw a crowd at the highest levels of play.
As for methods of winning and the room for skill expression, there are always changing metas and strategies that teams employ to give themselves an advantage when it comes to winning, especially when it comes to LoL. As for skill expression, there may be even more in esports than there is in our standard array of more physical sports. With unique combinations of abilities, champions, and even items present in LoL, there are so many ways to distinguish between different classes of players and how they are representative of the best their sport has to offer.
For example: the player often most seen as the GOAT of LoL would be Faker, a Korean player who represents T1 Gaming and has been playing professionally since 2013. He has played 1,046 games at the professional level and has a near 68% win rate in his career. Faker is widely regarded as the best player of all time in LoL history and I would contend that he should be seen up there with the greats in other sports. Being three times a World Champion and two times an MSI Champion, such an impressive career in just 9 years is unheard of in most traditional sports. Certainly, he exemplifies what skill expression is possible in his sport and how that ability can lead one to the top within his field.
Now that we have checked off all of the boxes on why esports fit the basis for what being a sport entails, let me explain why this is at all important. Around the world, online gaming is stigmatized as “lazy”, “unhealthy”, and “unproductive”, yet standard sports are glorified. This stigma is obviously detrimental to people who make a career of gaming whether that be at the professional level or on platforms like Twitch as well as the casual enjoyer of esports and online gaming. However, if we are open to changing our mindset and seeing esports in the same way that we see our more traditional sports, then perhaps, without the presence of such stigmas and biases, we could see a more accepting world that acknowledges those at the top of their respective fields and gives them the respect that they deserve.