Esports vs Traditional Sports

Earlier today, Riot Games published a video to their League of Legends YouTube account titled, “Our Game | League of Legends.” To quickly sum it up, the video is a collection of media and traditional sports media questioning the validity of esports, coupled with shots of live esporting events. This is a topic I feel very strongly towards, and I’ve been meaning to make some sort of post about it for a long time now.

If you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t heard yet, esports is being covered by ESPN now, and a lot of people aren’t happy about it. The major argument everyone’s having boils down to one question: “Are videogames a sport?”

But I think we’re asking the wrong question here. Whether or not we define esports as sports is largely irrelevant. What’s important is recognizing its legitimacy as entertainment on the same level as traditional sports. And to be honest, you’d have to be blind not to.

Here are some things about esports you can’t ignore:

  • We sell out huge stadiums for live events where fans come together to cheer on their favorite teams and players.
  • There are live performances by well-known artists before big events.
  • Fans buy jerseys of their favorite players and wear them for support.
  • The U.S. Government grants P1 athletic visas to foreign players.
  • Colleges give scholarships to select athletes to play on their team.

Sound familiar? These are all things that make traditional sports legitimate. Why not esports?

Really, the only argument you can possibly have for denying legitimacy is “I don’t want esports to be legitimate.” The single most popular line for naysayers is “It’s not a sport because there’s no physical activity.”

Esports athletes have physical talent, believe it or not. There’s a lot of dexterity required to play at the highest level, and esports athletes have to stay in good shape to perform. But even if that’s not enough physical activity to satisfy you, can you really claim that it doesn’t take talent and a lot of hard work? These athletes are at the top 0.001% of all players. Regardless of your views on what constitutes a sport, you can’t deny that these players are just as talented and dedicated as traditional sports athletes.

That being said, does it really matter what we call it? Surely the two are similar enough to be covered on a sports network.

In college I wrote a paper on esports and their equivalency to sports. I came to the conclusion that the dominant form of sporting entertainment comes from society’s current ideals. In years past, physicality has been the dominant ideal, which scientifically comes down to natural selection where the strong survive because they are capable of obtaining food and shelter. Those things aren’t as important to us today, and delving into a digital age has increased our receptiveness to other ideals like technology and intelligence. Thus, paving the way for esports.

This is really just a theory, so I don’t expect anyone to treat it as law, but I thought it was an interesting argument for our shift in interests recently. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that being known as a “gamer” was akin to a social pariah. But some things have changed in the last 20 or so years.

That’s why so many people have such a hard time understanding esports at all. Their understanding of gamers still dates pre-2000, which conjures images of overweight, socially inept individuals living in the basements of their parents for the rest of their lives. And that’s not who gamers are today.

The real reason I love this video from Riot, is because it plays to the sense of community that esports fans have. And to be honest, that’s something we have over traditional sports. Perhaps born of a mutual experience in being ostracized by the general public for so long, esports has always had a tightly-knit community. Closing out the video with the line, “Not just a sport. Our sport,” resonates with gamers everywhere.

We’ve had to struggle to get esports to where it is today, from holding tournaments in basements to Madison Square Garden, and we’ve been fought the entire way here. And as esports continues to grow, there will come a time when it is accepted and celebrated instead of denied and shunned. That time may not be here just yet, but rest assured, it is coming. This is the direction the world is moving now. So are you going to move with it, or be left behind?

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