Can Esports be Considered a Sport? – The Age-Old Debate

A recent article posted on The Straits Times insinuated that esports athletes are inferior to other sports athletes because they’re mostly game addicts who sits around all day, only moving their eyes and fingers. The author also implied that esports is in essence not too different from hobbies such as knitting and baking.

Truth is that the author is pathetically misinformed about the strict training regimens of esports athletes nowadays, and isn’t able to effectively tell the difference between esports players and casual gamers in the first place. And unfortunately, many others share these misconceptions about esports.

Prize pools in esports have amounted to exceed that of conventional sports, with stakes as high as tens of millions in USD per match. Under these conditions it is incredibly naive of these naysayers to still think that any esports team or professional player would not be doing whatever it takes before matches to ensure their physical and mental states are in tip-top condition.

1. First of all, GAMING ≠ ESPORTS

Gaming is a hobby, esports is a full-time job.

Many non-gamers love to throw the term ‘esports‘ around with contempt and thinking it simply means ‘a bunch of game addicts wasting time‘, without even bothering to find out what ‘esports‘ really means. The difference between esports and gaming is essentially the difference between the NBA League and street basketball that you play with your friends.

And similarly, comparing esports athletes with casual gamers is like comparing Muhammad Ali to a someone who punches a sandbag at home to destress everyday – apples and oranges.

Esports by definition means competitive gaming, but as we have so many top-tier competitions nowadays with insane amounts of prize pool, esports should be more accurately defined as “the top level of competitive gaming“. As such, anyone can become a competitive player, but it’s definitely the cream of the crop who’d come to be referred to most often as “esports players“.

Professional esports athletes chose esports as a full-time job. They made the conscious decision to dedicate their life to the craft, moving into a bootcamp / training house, and hone their skills on a daily basis with the help of support staff such as full-time coaches, analysts, psychologists and chefs or nutritionists. As players are contractually-obligated to commit to daily training, and share the same goal of winning as the organizations paying their salaries, most of them only take short breaks from daily training at the end of competitive seasons.

At the top level of competitive gaming, hard work is something that’s so ubiquitous that it’s expected of everybody – nobody would brag of training diligently; results would speak for themselves.

Professional esports teams train against other pro teams (often from another country / region) on a daily basis, and in between training they’d either be watching and analyzing replays, coming up with new tactics and strategies, working on improving teamwork and communication, studying recent changes or trends in the game, or exercising in order to keep their stamina up to prepare for long hours of intense concentration.

Loving the game doesn’t equate to being good at the sport.

Gaming is a huge industry made up of billions of gamers worldwide, and many gamers aspire to become professional players. But the sad truth is, perhaps only the top 0.00001% can eventually make it to the international stage. Hard work, top-tier skills, dedication and the right mindset is a given; and you’d need more than a bit of luck to get scouted and picked up by a proper team / organization, have compatible teammates to compete with, build a strong reputation for yourself, for the slight chance to eventually get picked to represent your country when the time comes.

And the five in every SEA country who eventually get selected, would be your esports athletes representing their respective countries in the SEA Games.

So insinuating that our national esports athletes are just a bunch of lazy bums sitting around all day is honestly a rather huge insult.

2. Of Physical Aspects and Sacrifices

There are in fact many parallels to be drawn between esports and certain conventional sports titles. Take competitive shooting for example – when competing at the international-level, like esports it requires intense mental focus maintained for a prolonged period of time, excellent physical condition as a basis for stamina, as well as strong psychological resilience in order to excel.

The international esports stage is where a momentary lapse of concentration could mean losing a million-dollar game; a well-timed skill instinctively executed by muscle memory could as easily turn the tides in a team’s favor in a close game. There’s no room for mistakes in a top-tier match – one player’s error could mean the loss of millions of dollars for the entire team; there’s simply too much at stake.

As such, maintaining tip-top physical form is essential to winning games. Many esports teams have taken to incorporating some form of daily physical training to their training regimes, as physical form is well-known to be linked to greater stamina and better mental focus, both essential skills for esports athletes.

Most physical sports require maximizing the potential of various parts of the human body, and esports as well has incredibly high requirement for hand-eye coordination and lightning-fast reflexes. Repetitive reflexes and muscle memory training are thus included as part of some teams’ daily schedule.

And diet-wise, since a couple of years ago nutritionists and full-time cooks are already included as part of the support team living in esports team bootcamps. Many teams ban fried or unhealthy food in general during competitive seasons as it’s said to slow your reaction time.

What people don’t see is that many esports teams also impose strict rules on social behavior, prohibiting the use of mobile phones, messaging apps and stopping players from leaving the bootcamp or seeing their partners during competitive season, as all these would tend to distract players and affect their emotional state and eventual condition in matches.

These are some of the common sacrifices made by esports players who compete at the top level, mutually agreed with and enforced by team organizations.

3. Definition of Sports – Not a Comparison of Brute Strength

When it comes to the definition of sports, we disagree that it should be a comparison between the extent of the usage of bodily muscles, as suggested in the original article. If we go by this logic and go about defining what’s sports and what’s not based on the amount of ‘physical challenges’ involved, does that mean that anyone who can lift a 100kg weight or display a certain amount of physical prowess can effectively be considered an athlete?

If that’s the case, what about sports titles such as golf, archery and shooting? Should they be considered sports titles since the amount of ‘physical challenges’ required are also limited to certain body parts and doesn’t necessarily require Herculean levels of brute strength? Just where exactly do we draw the line?

4. Esports is Not in Desperate Need of Recognition

Esports is already a billion-dollar industry on its own – with a strong fanbase and lines of merchandises built around its unique pull and high entertainment value as a spectator sport. With numerous competitive game titles across different platforms (PC, consoles & mobile), most international esports tournaments nowadays have no trouble filling up entire stadiums.

After all, esports still has its roots in gaming, and it relies heavily on the sponsorship and investments attracted to the huge gaming consumer base. And with that, within the past decade we’ve seen the formation of healthy ecosystems surrounding esports, creating more and more full-time, sustainable jobs, including match commentators, team managers, esports journalists, game analysts, etc.

Even with the huge stigmatization towards gaming and widespread misconception towards the notion of ‘esports‘, the industry is already standing strong on its own, having regular competitive seasons and league systems, solid fanbases and markets, high-quality media production, engaging narratives, an ever-growing pool of talents and support staff keeping the scene running and expanding exponentially. Seeing the potential in a budding industry, an increasing number of professionals such as lawyers and psychologists as well as entrepreneurs and investors are exploring or creating opportunities in esports as well.

Gaming is a widely-favored form of entertainment in this generation of youths, and as they grow up to make up the workforce and make the conscious choice to join and further grow the esports industry, it won’t be surprising if esports eventually comes to edge out conventional sports.

Hence, we’re glad to say that at this point in time, esports is really not in desperate need for recognition. Being part of the SEA Games or the Olympics is definitely a huge step forward for the industry in raising awareness amongst the general public or gaining governmental support, but we’ve done fine on our own in the past decade, and are thus completely alright with not being part of these mixed sports events.

Like a “well it’s nice to be included, but we’ll also do fine without it”.

Because with or without the support of the older generation who refuse to open their mind and understand esports, the industry is here to stay and will only keep growing stronger as the years go by – and that is the truth whether or not you choose to accept it.

This article was originally published on the Battle Arena Malaysia Facebook page.

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