From the Press Box: Competitive electronic gaming: sport or no?

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As COVID-19 continues to keep athletes off the field/court, NASCAR seems to have found a somewhat entertaining substitute with the iRacing Pro Series the last couple of weeks.

They have now had three races aired on FS1 and while it wasn’t the same thing, I did find some of what I watched entertaining.

But the observation of these men who normally are risking their well-being at times at 200-plus miles an hour now comfortably taking the green flag from a gaming chair raised a question to me: is competitive electronic gaming a sport?

There are several definitions of a sport that arises on a simple Google search. 

Some entries include: 

• “An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.”

• “(1): Physical activity engaged in for pleasure; (2): a particular activity (such as an athletic game) so engaged in” (Webster)

• “An athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature, as racing, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling, boxing, hunting, fishing, etc.” (Dictionary.com)

• “A game, competition, or activity needing physical effort and skill that is played or done according to rules, for enjoyment and/or as a job:”

As the term “sport” seems to be very subjective on the parameters of its definition, it seems to have these constants: skill, competition, rules and (most of the time) physical exertion.

I have always found NASCAR drivers to be naturally skilled and talented, even if they aren’t what I would consider to be “athletes.” But, the toll driving a car at the speeds they do has to be mentally and physically exhausting.

That being said, let’s dig a little deeper to the overall question surrounding competitive electronic gaming.

Several gaming communities hold tournaments and invitationals including League of Legends, Madden NFL, Super Smash Bros., Call of Duty, Overwatch and even Pokémon. 

Winners from these tournaments can have purses of $34 million or more with first place being awarded $15 million. (www.esportsearnings.com) Twenty-six-year-old Johan Sundstein won $6.8 million from 108 different tournaments as of September 2019 off the game, Dota 2.

A player in many of the aforementioned games must be skilled enough in these competitions and operate within a set of parameters set by the game (or tournament administrators) to win the jackpots.

Thus, they must be the best at their craft.

That covers three of the four variables for defining e-sports as a “sport.”

But what about physical exertion? Video games in nature, even though they are stigmatized as laziness, actually care some physical benefits.

These benefits include improved eyesight and motor-reflexes. But are they physically exerting themselves?

It’s hard to say. I’ve had some intense moments in video games where my heart raced a little bit, but nothing compared to what an athlete or NASCAR driver may go through.

Personally I don’t consider e-sports to truly be sports, even though they are often aired on sports networks (to be fair, so is World Series of Poker). 

A sport, in my opinion, has to have some serious physical exertion. I acknowledge the skill and competitive drive involved to win at various tournaments, but without the physical exertion are they any different than a spelling bee, chess tournament or even academic contest?

What are your thoughts on the matter? Send me your thoughts and we may run them.

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