To many athletes, sports fanatics and the video game adverse, the concept of eSports being recognised as a genuine sporting activity may seem laughable, but ask any dedicated gamer and they will have plenty of arguments as to why eSports qualify as true sports. We’ve provided an overview of the eSports industry for absolute beginners so you can decide for yourself whether you think eSports are really a true sport or not.

What is eSports?

eSports (short for electronic sports) are competitive games facilitated by electronic systems like video game consoles or computers. Essentially, eSports are video games that are played in a competitive nature against other players for the chance to claim victory. Games can take place between friends and family at home or in dedicated Internet cafes, or in a professional context at massive global tournaments in large arenas. eSports are insanely popular, providing video game enthusiasts with a genuine outlet to participate in their favourite fighter games and arcade games.

You can think of eSports as a non-athletic form of football, soccer or basketball. Players band together and work as a team to defeat their opponents, and just like in any other sport there are recreational players, junior leagues, professional teams, commentators and televised events. The e-Sports industry has a huge following, with loyal fans dedicated to supporting certain teams and huge multinational corporations sponsoring events, including Red Bull, Coca Cola, Sony and Google. Even professional e-Sports teams receive sponsorship from major brands looking to advertise their services to a wide audience, predominantly males aged 16-30 years old.

eSports industry statistics

While some may think eSports is just a bunch of computer nerds messing around on their video game consoles, the facts about the industry prove just how serious eSports are. Check out some of these statistics, which you can use as proof next time someone argues that eSports are not real sports:

  • In 2013, an estimated 71.5 million people watched eSports worldwide.
  • By 2015, the eSports industry had grown to have around 226 million viewers.
  • The biggest eSports event in 2015, the League of Legends World Champions final attracted more than 35 million viewers.
  • In 2016, the eSports industry generated over $892 million.
  • Reports predict the eSports industry will generate over $1.23 billion by 2019.

How did eSports come to be recognised as real sports?

Video games have come an extraordinarily long way since they were first invented in the 1940’s. Limited technology meant the original video games were very basic, using repetitive actions and two-dimensional graphics that didn’t leave much room for competition or developing skills. Thanks to incredible technological advances, video games are now larger than life, with powerful game consoles and worldwide Internet connectivity allowing players to engage in intricate, highly detailed games with other players from all over the world. Now that high scores can be compared globally and games use deeply engaging 3D graphics with complex storylines and characters, they are interesting enough to be broadcast and watched by other people.

With so many devoted gamers, the development of an eSports industry meant video game fanatics finally had a platform to put their skills to the test, with huge eSports tournaments taking place around the world. Now that eSports is a multi-million-dollar industry and so many major sponsors are on-board, it is viewed by many to be a genuine, true sporting activity.

Argument for e-Sports being real sports

The Oxford dictionary defines sport as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” While eSports require more mental exertion than they do physical, this definition provides a pretty solid platform to argue that e-Sports are in fact real sports.

A good argument is to look at other more mentally-focused activities that are classified as sports – chess is a great example. Chess is a highly competitive game, and although very little physical activity is required, players have to exercise great mental exertion in order to stay ahead of their opponents. eSports are the same, where cerebral skills mixed with basic motor skills are needed to participate and defeat the competitor.

Just like traditional athletes, eSport athletes spend countless hours mastering their sport and perfecting their skills. Some players have been known to train for up to 14 hours a day, sharpening their reflexes and quickening their reaction time.

One well known eSports athlete, known as Yellowstar, likens eSports to real sports by explaining, “If you perform, you are going to receive a lot of praise. If you were to miss or fail an action, you can bring your team down, affect your team’s performance and get a lot of blame.”

Argument against e-Sports being real sports

If you look at the eSports industry as a whole, it operates just like any other sport in terms of popularity, global reach, sponsorship and revenue. But to traditional athletes who have spent a lifetime pushing their bodies to physical limits and working to build strength and master physical skills while forcing their bodies way outside of their comfort zones and enduring physical pain, eSports will never be considered the same as real sports.

Unlike traditional sports where athletes are either born with certain physical traits or skills that they can build on to master their game, all eSports players start out at exactly the same level, using the exact same piece of software. Some view this as another reason eSports are not real sports.

ESPN president John Skipper has been vocal about his belief that eSports are not real sports. Skipper said, “It’s not a sport — it’s a competition. Chess is a competition. Checkers is a competition. Mostly, I’m interested in doing real sports.”

Those who share Skippers mentality believe the eSports industries push for sports broadcasting networks like ESPN to view eSports as real sports is just so that tournaments will be easier to sell to advertisers.

Whether you think eSports are real sports or not, there’s no denying that this industry is growing fast and will only get bigger, with some predictions suggesting the eSports industry will one day be bigger than football.