Esports: More Than Just A Video Game

Esports is no typical ballgame but it’s considered a sport nonetheless. Shafiq Guee delves deeper to resolve the argument on esports.

Image from Unsplash.


Published on
December 13, 2020

This whole “esports isn’t a sport” debacle has been fought by uninformed naysayers for far too long. They often bring out the definition of sports: “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment”. These are also the same people constantly holding the catchphrase “physical exertion” over the heads of esports supporters.

What is the definition of sports and how does esports match the hallmarks of traditional sports? It’s time to dig deep and score a resolution.

How Esports Teams Train

Esports demands a ton of mental exertion from pros. They are constantly placed under high stress situations and expected to react within milliseconds, all the while holding an ever-changing virtual picture of the game at hand: where their teammates are positioned and what strategy the opponent is playing.

But the human body functions much like a chain; it’s only as strong as its weakest link. The brain can only cope with so much mental exertion and if the body is unable to keep up, it will put a lot of physical strain on the body.

A study by the German Sports University in 2016 revealed that the amount of stress hormones and cortisol going through a player during competition matched those of race car drivers, with heart rates averaging 160 to 180 beats per minute – that’s well above the fat burn zone. When a typical tournament lasts about two hours with short downtimes in between rounds, you’ve basically got a week’s worth of cardio right there!

And most esports pros exercise on top of their daily training regime. A research study published in 2016 in the International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations found that, out of 115 elite esports pros, they spend an average of 5.28 hours a day training, with 1.08 hours being physical exercise. It improves motor function, giving them faster reaction times and hand-eye coordination while raising their threshold for stress.

Cutting-Edge Competitions

The 2019 CS:GO Major: The IEM World Championship held in Katowice. Image from Intel Extreme Masters.

This is an easy win for esports. There are 80 esports leagues and tournaments of varying levels of competition, of which 18 are worldwide competitions.

Let’s take Counter-Strike: Global Offensive’s (CS:GO) tournaments as an example.

For a rookie team, the competition starts with Regular Tournaments which are held online and net the team some recognition in esports circles should they win the season finals. From here, all other tournaments are largely by invite-only, building heavily on a team’s standing and recognition.

Next up, Cycle Tournaments are the popularity boost for new teams, with competitions held live in esports arenas in front of an online audience. Winning this would raise eyebrows in the big boy leagues. The team might get invited to participate in Minor Tournaments where they compete against the best in their region.

Acing the Minors will earn the team a spot in the Majors: the highest echelon of esports competitions. Aside from attaining international stardom from qualifying, now the team also gets to contend against the elite of other regions. The winner would be crowned the best team in the world.

Entertainment in a Whole Different Arena

Crowd filled with suspense as North American CS:GO team Cloud9 compete to win North America’s first ever Major after a dogged comeback fight to the Finals. Image from HLTV.

If following your favourite team up the tournament ladders isn’t what you would deem “entertaining” then you must be part of the minority. In 2015, the League of Legends World Championship Finals saw over 36 million people tune in. Paling in comparison, the 2015 NBA Finals, World Series, and NHL Stanley Cup had 23 million, 17 million, and 8 million respectively. As of 2019, there are over 450 million esports viewers. Netflix only has just shy of 200 million people streaming movies.

Ok, numbers aside, let’s focus on why esports is quickly dwarfing mainstream sports and media outlets in viewership. The veil of competitiveness – seeing the best of the best duke it out – is ingrained in every esports tournament. The team play and sheer skill of these esports teams are so exceptional that the audience is captivated.

Arguably, comebacks and underdog tales are the epitome of entertainment in traditional sports, but those are few and far between. However, in esports, the tide can change in mere seconds as video games have no respect for physical limitations.

It’s an emotional rollercoaster that only has ups and downs with no plateaux. Talented commentators only amplify the emotional high, from hyping up a stadium to a roaring mess to keeping you at the edge of your seats in the comfort of your home. 

The Final Score

So there you have it, the numbers and facts prove it. Even if you were to wield the definition of sports in the face of esports’ claim to legitimacy, it fits the description. The fans, the tension, the competition, the players, the teams, the money, the viewership; everything about esports screams sports.

And if you can’t take my word for it, here’s what the legendary late Kobe Bryant had to say about esports: “I get it, it’s a form of entertainment. It’s looking at the sport being played through a different lens.”

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