Only ten years ago, calling video games a sport would be considered crazy. Not anymore, as the constant growth in popularity of eSports convincingly proves. Its revenue and audience grow year by year, suggesting that it might be the sport of the future. The similar shift occurred in the gambling industry, with customers turning away from land-based casinos, embracing virtual, online casinos and fantasy sports. For example, if you are wondering why choose Pinnacle over visiting a local bookie, the answer is simple: you can place your bets from the comfort of your home at the best possible odds.
But, let us go back to eSports. It generated $493m in revenue and reached a global audience of about 320m people in 2016. By 2019, global revenue of the eSports industry is expected to exceed $1 billion. eSports will be an official medal sport at the 2022 Asian Games in China, the world’s second largest multi-sport event after the Olympics.
All this indicates that video games are increasingly gaining the status previously reserved for conventional sports. However, video games are not the first sport to raise controversy. It was chess that started it all.
Indeed, if chess is a sport, why video games shouldn’t be? Chess is considered to be officially recognized as a sport in 1999, when World Chess Federation (FIDE) was recognized by the International Olympic Committee. However, it is still not an Olympic sport, although there has been a long campaign for that. Admitting chess to the world of sport was an important precedent, because it is the first official sport that lacks the element of physical skill, i.e. where mental skills are primarily important.
So, understanding why chess is sport can help us decide whether eSports should be considered a sport.
Chess is competitive, well established and regulated, with a clear component of training and developing a valuable and rare skill. All this makes it similar to conventional sports. It seems that the same can be said of video games. They are scientifically proven to be good for regions of brain in charge of spatial memory, spatial visualisation, pattern recognition, perception and hand-eye coordination. In addition, video games often require strategic thinking, sustained attention, planning and good coordination with other players.
Adding the fact that there are formal teams, holding formal championships, with big monetary prizes, titles and trophies at stake, there really seems to be no good reason to say that video games are not a sport.
Those who stick to the claim that only games involving physical exertion can be considered sports will disagree. It all gets down to whether we want physical fitness to be the conditio sine qua non for calling something a sport. However, the world is definitely moving in that direction, challenging our traditional conceptions.
eSports increasingly resembles a conventional sport: it has a worldwide multi-million audience, it has professionals and gaming stars, it is competitive and it has commentators and analysts. It requires training, strategy, fast reflexes and quick thinking. Players have their teams, coaches and managers.
eSports are still in the beginning and many challenges lie ahead: clearer regulations, dealing with injuries and standardized ranking system are only some of them. But although we are still far from seeing eSports at Olympic Games, the world should take this nascent field seriously.