With the growing popularity of competitive gaming, some have questioned the legitimacy of esports. Many people, including athletes and late-night talk show hosts have questioned whether a term including the word “sports” can really be used to describe something like video games. Is it fair to consider a person who sits at a computer or gaming console all day an athlete? While most gamers would probably agree that someone who plays a game like Halo or Call of Duty professionally is not an athlete in the same way that someone who plays in the NFL is an athlete, but is it really that different?
On the surface, you could argue that the two are nowhere close to being similar. Athletes in traditional sports have been honing their skills since childhood and have put in many hours working to get in the best physical shape possible. They spend hours every week studying the playstyle of their upcoming opponent, keeping a lookout for any weakness that could give them an edge. They’ve fought their way through the minor leagues of their particular sport to be considered one of the best. Not just anyone can pick up a football, baseball, basketball, etc. and become a professional, there’s a lot of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice that goes into reaching that level. However, many of these things can also be said for professional gamers. Many gamers claim to have been playing video games since they were young children, most beginning to pursue the competitive side of gaming in their early teens. They spend hours learning every aspect of their preferred game, learning things like secret jumps, nade points, and different angles for sniping. They also review film and watch streams of other players and teams to see what they do in certain scenarios so they can be better equipped to counter that strategy. They’ve worked their way up from teams that are often comprised of neighborhood friends or people they’ve met playing online, to better teams hoping that they’ll be noticed by one of the top players and be given the chance to prove themselves. While millions of people all over the world play video games in some capacity, only a small percentage of those have the talent and dedication required to be considered a professional.
But traditional sports require teamwork. Athletes must work together in order to reach a common goal. Aside from a few single player esports titles, most games that are played on the competitive level are team-based. Call of Duty, Halo, Counter Strike, League of Legends, Dota, Overwatch, etc. are all played by teams of at least four players. In many esports, teams are comprised of players who can fill a given role. Much like in a sport like football where you have some players whose job is to receive, while others are responsible for blocking for the quarterback, many team-based video games have similar roles. For example, in a game like Halo you might have one player whose primary role is to go for the objective, while another player may mostly focus on getting kills. Also like in traditional sports, even though a player may have a primary role, the best players are able to fill whatever role is necessary. This is similar to a football player who primarily plays defense, but should also be able to catch and run the ball if given the opportunity at an interception. As is the case with other sports, being a good team player is one of the greatest attributes a gamer can have. It doesn’t really matter how good a player’s shot is if they’re unable to communicate to their teammates what they’re seeing or help force players to spawn in a certain place in order to capture a flag. How a person plays as part of a team can make or break their career.
One of the main things people will argue is that athletes in traditional sports face a much greater risk of injury than professional gamers. While athletes are at a greater risk for injuries like broken bones, torn ligaments, concussions, etc., esports aren’t completely risk free. When you spend ten hours or more of your day staring at a gaming monitor and rapidly tapping buttons on a controller or pressing keys on a computer keyboard, there is a risk for things like eye strain and carpal tunnel if the right precautions aren’t taken. While it may not be totally fair to compare these seemingly minor injuries to those suffered by traditional athletes, they can still affect a person both in and out of game and could potentially be career ending.
Unlike most professional athletes, many professional gamers also have other responsibilities such as school and jobs. Gamers in the smaller esports aren’t typically under salary, so must typically rely on tournament winnings. Although making a name for yourself on platforms such as YouTube and Twitch can definitely help supplement that income, many professional gamers must hold other jobs outside of gaming. This means that they must learn to balance gaming with work and may have to sacrifice time with family and friends to make sure they are up to speed with the competition.
Is it possible that one day there will be Little League gaming teams or that kids will say they want to be the next Walshy or Ogre 2 rather than wanting to be the next Peyton Manning or Michael Jordan? Not long ago I would have said no, but with esports continuing to gain popularity and becoming recognized as a more legitimate industry, I’m not so sure, especially with colleges such as the University of California in Irvine offering esports scholarships. Regardless of whether esports will ever be considered in the same space as more traditional sports, the future definitely looks bright.