As lines of fans file into the stadium and find their seats, tension for the main event rises. The cameras begin streaming to thousands more online. Casters begin to discuss the upcoming matchup. Players stumble over the strategy they’ve been working on for weeks. Coaches give their team a quick-pep talk to raise morale. The lights go dark and the crowd ignites the stadium with cheers. The lights refocus on the teams taking up their positions. With millions on the line, the pressure can be felt from anywhere in the building. The main event has begun—an eSports tournament.
By definition, an eSport is a multiplayer video game played competitively for spectators, typically by professional gamers. Most people wouldn’t consider eSports a sport, based on that alone. Anthony Gabianelli, a student writer for the Montclarion, the student newspaper of Montclair State University, thinks the lack of physicality is what separates eSports from traditional sports.
“eSports are entertainment and nothing more than that,” Gabianelli said.
However, being a professional gamer is much more than just sitting in front of a screen playing video games all day—it is not something everyone is capable of accomplishing. Professional gamers live in hyper-competitive worlds where their individual and team skills are constantly being put to the test. With a combination of competition, skill and teamwork backed with an audience and building revenue, eSports is redefining what a sport is.
eSports takes skill
According to the Oxford Dictionary, a sport is an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment. By this definition, sports have to be athletic, but don’t get caught up on this physical aspect. There are other established sports that don’t require physical activity, such as chess—which is recognized as a sport by the International Olympic Committee and over 100 countries—or stock car racing—NASCAR.
Thomas Formoso, another student writer for the Montclarion, describes how it feels to play eSports.
“You’re in the zone. You are using the right blend of competitiveness, the necessary hand-eye coordination, or the amount of concentration and communication required to succeed,” said Formoso.
Could sound like any sport, right? At the core of every sport, eSports included, is the spirit of competition.
eSports requires teamwork
eSports, just like traditional team sports, requires teamwork. Players have to work together to complete objectives in order to succeed. This requires players to practice, just like any other sport. Playing together helps build team chemistry and gets players used to working together as a team. This way teams are prepared for tournaments, when everything is on the line.
eSports organizations build teams of support staff to assist the professional gamers in excelling, similar to other sports organizations. Sam Mathews, founder of Fnatic—an eSports organization, said, “We have a live-in coach, we have analysts, we have … basically a huge support network.”
Audience and revenue
Any successful spectator sport needs to be able to draw in crowds for events to make money. Many eSports tournaments have already sold out many large venues around the globe, including the Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA.
According to a study by Newzoo, the global eSports audience expanded from 204 million to 292 million viewers between 2014 and 2016. In only two years, viewership raised by 43 percent and is projected to continue to rise.
Newzoo found the eSports global revenue exploded from $194 million in 2014 to $463 million in 2016. An impressive 239 percent increase in just two years of growth.
Many businesses are beginning to realize the financial potential of eSports. According to Jacob Wolf, a staff writer for ESPN, “Cloud9 has raised $25 million in Series A financing from notable companies and parties in sports, media, tech and entertainment.” Some of these financial parties included the WWE and San Francisco Giants outfielder Hunter Pence.
ESPN has even begun broadcasting eSports events on their networks and has an eSports section on its website.
eSports have also made their way into the collegiate sports scene. According to ESPN’s website, there are currently 41 varsity eSports programs across the nation. Some of these schools include: UC Irvine, University of Utah and Georgia State University.
This year, Boise State unveiled its new varsity eSports program. According to a previous Arbiter article, “Boise State launches new Esports program,” Boise State is one of four Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools to have an official organized varsity eSports team. BSU’s eSports program offers varsity teams for five separate games—League of Legends, Overwatch, Rocket League, Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone.
While eSports lacks the athletic aspect of traditional sports, it has many other components of them. Like in team sports, eSports features games where players have to work together to achieve victory. Players practice to compete on global stages, in front of huge audiences, with millions up for grabs. This is why eSports deserves to be recognized as a sport.