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The debate of electronic exercise: eSports will be sports

Paige Sredenschek/The SPOKE

By Justin Huang, Co-Editor-in-Chief

According to CBS, Super Bowl LIII attracted 98.2 million viewers two months ago, not including those who streamed the game. In contrast, the League of Legends World Championship Finals drew a crowd of 99.6 million unique viewers, including those who filled every seat in Beijing’s Bird Nest and those who streamed it.

That number may be tiny compared to the World Cup’s 3.5 billion viewers from last year, but when a video game draws around the same amount of views as the Super Bowl, it means something. The growing popularity of eSports makes it hard to ignore, and we’ll find ourselves revisiting the question of whether they may be classified as sports.

For this argument, I’ll reference League of Legends mostly, since it’s the largest eSport and the one I’m most familiar with. In the game, two teams of five face each other on a digital battlefield, and the main objective is to destroy each other’s base of operations, where players return to buy items and heal.

To start, League of Legends has a lot of similarities with mainstream sports. Several teams across five regions compete against each other, and each year kicks off with drafts and trades between teams. Viewers and fans excitedly watch their favorite team’s ascension up the brackets to the final match of the season while arguing against other teams’ fans over the winner of a game. The last two sentences could apply to any sport, and they apply to League, too.

The general definition of sports defines them as requiring physical activity, and although League doesn’t have that, the game still requires skill and fast mechanics. While competing, one wrong keystroke during a fight between the two teams could ruin one side, and if a right one comes a second too late, it could be a missed opportunity. Teamwork remains a constant requirement in the game, as in any sport, and professional teams devote hours in scrimmages and practices to develop that bond.

Despite those similarities, it’s still hard for people to accept a sport without any exhausting physical activity. That’s fine. I don’t expect to see eSports played at the Olympics, and I don’t want to, but other factors give it a right to being called a sport — something other organizations have realized as well.

Last July, the International Olympics Committee and the Global Association of International Sports Federation hosted a forum about future collaboration with eSports and whether they should be considered a sport. The question’s been raised before, and it’s possible that the Committee will give formal recognition in the near future.

The United States has also recognized the explosive growth of eSports and officially gaven international League professionals the same visas as other professional athletes, giving League players the same treatment as other sports athletes. It’s not complete, formal recognition of the game as a sport, but it’s a step in the right direction.

As viewership and general interest in mainstream sports hover around their current peak, eSports continues to grow in popularity. Eventually, that popularity will inevitably give them the well-deserved formal qualification as a sport.

Paige Sredenschek/The SPOKE
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