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What makes eSport, sport?

Flourish 24 Sep 2016

Rio hosted an eGames Showcase during the Olympics, now gamers are one step closer to calling themselves athletes.

Winners of eSport competition holding up trophy
Competitive gaming allows people to come together and share the growing pastime of gaming.

Who would have thought all those days spent indoors playing video games would pay off? Welcome to the world of eSports, a growing phenomenon leading home-based gamers into packed stadiums where they can compete for prize pools of up to $US20 million.  

eSports is an evolution of video gaming and offers international competition on a professional level. Although not quite mainstream, it’s definitely on the verge, with high-end sport networks such as ESPN competing for the broadcast rights. 

The Rio de Janeiro eGames Showcase 2016, held during the Olympic Games, offered more prize money than many Olympians could ever hope to earn. 

In Australia alone, there has been rapid growth in the number of eSports competitions. Chris “Mayo” Smith, an Australian ex-competitive gamer, competed in the first cyber gamer national finals,Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, in Victoria in 2012. He says there are a variety of competitions available for Australian gamers of any level of expertise.

"The most important company right now is the Electronic Sports League (ESL) bringing in international talent and qualifiers to Australian shores,” Chris says. “Although, if you’re looking to just start out or grow your skills, look out for the lower leagues, such as ESEA (eSports Entertainment Association League) for practising with team mates or RFLAN (Redflag Lanfest in Western Australia), Respawn (Victoria) and ELEAGUE (New South Wales) for some live event action.”  

Gamers hold these competitions in high regard as they allow highly skilled competitors a chance to showcase their ability on a world stage. Popular competitions include: League of Legends, Call of Duty, StarCraft, Dota 2, Super Smash Bros and Hearthstone

“Without constant competitions and live exposure, players are unable to build an income, grow sponsorship exposure and more importantly take their experience and perform on a global scale,” Chris says. 

But it isn’t just the money and sponsorship. StarCraft player and pro-gamer Jared “PiG” Krensel says the competitions allow gamers to build friendships and exercise their minds. Jared, who is involved in eSports commentary and coaching, represented Australia at the Winter Circuit Championship in Poland this year. 

“Competitive gaming allows people to come together and share the growing pastime of gaming and also elevate those who are the very best,” Jared says. 

A welcoming community of enthusiasts, who all share a similar love for gaming, is just one reason the competitions are gaining fans.

“Passion, commitment, excitement and community are all words that come to mind when I think about why I love the sport. I’m able to take something relatively new, like gaming, and make a living out of it, while connecting with people who live and breathe this passion as much as I do,” Chris says. 

It hasn’t always been fun and games for the eSports community. In past years, critics have sometimes questioned whether gaming should be considered a sport. In 2014, ESPN president John Skipper claimed gaming wasn’t a sport and that the channel was focused only on broadcasting real sports. 

A year later, ESPN commentator Colin Cowherd criticised professional video gaming, calling players “nerds” and saying he would retire if ESPN broadcast eSports tournaments. 

Despite this negative perception of professional video gaming, in 2013 the United States Government began granting visas to eSports players under the category of professional athlete, thereby classifying professional gaming as a sport. 

Arena full of people for an eSport event

If you’re wondering how playing video games could compare to the likes of Gary Ablett on a football field, researchers have found that eSports players possess comparable skills and attitudes to traditional athletes.  

Academics from Winthrop University in South Carolina say one of the fundamental elements that justifies classifying professional gaming as a sport, is its competition. Just like any other sport, it requires competitiveness, which ultimately comes down to a thirst for victory.  

Dr Steven Conway, Senior Lecturer in Games and Interactivity at Swinburne University of Technology, agrees. He says players are actively competitive. 

“eSports players exhibit similar attitudes to traditional sports players because in both contexts one is playing a competitive game. The successful playing of a competitive game demands certain skills and attitudes come to the fore,” Steven says. 

Researchers also suggest that the skill level in professional gaming could be compared to that of traditional sports. Some scientists believe certain games require a higher level of strategy than traditional games such as chess. 

“Traditional sports demand the exercise of gross motor skills (running, jumping, swimming, etc), with lesser emphasis on fine motor skills (wrist work, hand-eye/foot-eye coordination, etc). eSports inverts this relationship: fine motor skills are dominant (aiming, clicking, etc),” Steven says. 

It’s possible another competition will be held during the next Olympic Games in 2020. Meanwhile, pro-gamers such as Jared are hoping for more regular sport-style broadcasts, so more people can bask in the glory of gaming. 

It’s possible another competition will be held during the next Olympic Games in 2020. Meanwhile, pro-gamers such as Jared are hoping for more regular sport-style broadcasts, so more people can bask in the glory of gaming.  

“People love watching eSports for the same reason they love watching sports. You can appreciate someone doing amazing things in a game, which you never thought possible,” Jared says. 

“You get to know personalities and that connection makes you root for them even harder. Sport is the best drama the world has to offer and eSports is no different.”

words Jamie Farnell photos Helena Kristiansson (ESL)

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