Why esports goes beyond sports

There are a lot of comparisons to draw between the traditional sports industry and the newer up-and-coming esports industry. In this article we’ll take a look at those similarities and look at one of the biggest questions esports faces today: “Is esports a sport?”


There has long been a controversy surrounding the classification of esports as a sport. While some countries such as China, who declared esports as a sport all the way back in 2003, have been frontrunners on the topic, there are still a lot of countries where esports still hasn’t been legitimized. While most acknowledge the fact that esports in itself is competitive, some people don’t think that’s enough to call it a sport.

Over the last decade however, more and more countries and big sporting events have recognized esports as a sport. Countries like Turkey, Canada and France have taken big steps, issuing esports licenses to professional athletes. Since three years ago the Olympic Games have also discussed adding esports to their roster of included sports but have decided against it for the 2020 and 2024 edition. They did however say they are still considering adding esports to the Olympic Games later on, wanting to keep in touch with younger audiences that are drawn to esports.

Similarities to traditional sports

One of the biggest similarities between esports and traditional sports is honing a skill. Athletes looking to compete at the highest level require an intense amount of training to reach the level that’s required of them. In recent years esports has evolved to a point where organizations facilitate them and guide them in their training, ensuring they have everything they need to practice in the best way possible.
Esports fans have also proven to be just as dedicated as those in traditional sports. With viewership soaring ever higher, esports as a whole is even looking to challenge the viewership numbers of traditional sports such as football and basketball. In the United States alone esports is close to reaching the same viewership as some established leagues such as the NBA and MLB.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that esports attracted a lot of big sponsors in recent years, who work together with the established leagues and competitions, the teams and of course the players. Just like in traditional sports, many esports teams work closely together with some big name brands even from different industries. A team like Fnatic partnered with BMW for example, while 100 Thieves worked together with Cash App to fund their esports facility.
A lot of players now also earn salaries of over a million dollars per year, with a minimum salary imposed by most of the biggest leagues in esports (League of Legends and the Call of Duty League for example). While the salaries on their own don’t legitimize esports as a sport, it certainly shows how much the industry has grown in recent years.

A league of its own

While competing in esports may not be a physical activity, there’s no question about it that competing at the highest levels requires a lot of effort. Much like professional athletes in traditional sports, esports athletes have to be able to concentrate for hours at a time, they need great hand-eye coordination and have to be able to make snap judgements in a very short amount of time.

Gaming often still has a negative connotation to it and a lot of people still think of it as ‘a bunch of sweaty fat guys in a room shouting at a screen’. Studies have debunked this multiple times, with studies such as the one done by the Queensland University of Technology proving esports players are actually at a healthier weight than the general population, smoke less and consume less alcohol.

Esports as a sport is a topic that’s been studied and talked about for the past two decades on a lot of different platforms. Some notable examples:

If we take a look at how the WHO (World Health Organization) defines sports, this is what we get: “Sport is an activity involving physical exertion, skill and/or hand-eye coordination as the primary focus of the activity, with elements of competition where rules and patterns of behaviour governing the activity exists formally through organizations and may be participated in either individually or as a team.”

You’ll find almost all of these aspects in esports as well, even physical exertion. Some matches might even take up to five hours, with players battling fatigue. having a good physique will help keep focus throughout these moments. Mens sana in corpore sano.

The League of Legends World Final 2014 was played in the Seoul World Cup Stadium. The venue was orginally built for the 2002 FIFA World Cup and has a capacity of over 66,000 seats.

Arguments against esports as a sport

Arguments against esports being classified as sport differ. The obvious and, probably, most common argument is the one of a physical nature. Some believe that as esports does not involve any physical activity, it can’t be classified as a sport. A big part of this argument is founded on the dictionary definition of a ’sport’.
Others prefer not to categorize esports among sports for the sole reason of letting it remain its own thing. Rather than cramming esports in among other sports, they want it to be a completely different branch of competition as a whole. Under this belief competitive games are classified under ‘sports’, while competitive video games carry the name ‘esports’.
Another argument is the one of standardization. Where in more traditional sports the playing field remains mostly the same but with slightly different rules, esports varies greatly. Not only are there countless games that can be played within esports, they’re played on different consoles with wildly varying rules and a completely different level of access.

Does it really matter?

While some people make a strong case for esports as a sport, perhaps we should also look at how we recognize competition. Esports is a billion dollar industry that is watched by millions worldwide and has known enormous growth over the last decade. Competition is competition and perhaps we shouldn’t be fighting over semantics. There’s no doubt the level of competition and effort put into esports rivals that of traditional sports. In the end, that’s all that matters.