About a month ago, I was slouched on my living room couch flipping through channels on my TV, desperate to find something to watch. That’s when I came across an interesting program on ESPN. It was an eSports gaming tournament.
This wasn’t the first time I had come across an eSports tournament. I had read about eSports online and knew that it was a growing trend worldwide. However, I was baffled as to why it was being aired on ESPN–the top sports entertainment channel in the nation.
The fact that I keep seeing it more is starting to worry me.
In 2013, the U.S. Department of Citizen & Immigration Services began issuing P-1 visas to professional gamers. These visas had previously been granted to only foreign athletes. These eSports players, that compete in U.S. tournaments are now legally recognized as professional athletes. The industry has continued to grow in popularity since then, but I’m not a fan of it.
I worry that the growing popularity of eSports is taking the sports industry in the wrong direction. One that I feel could taint the industry altogether. This increased obsession with eSports is gradually deteriorating the true meaning of sport. It is single handedly taking the definition of sports and transforming it into something it’s not.
I don’t think eSports is real sport and the gamers who participate in eSports are by no means athletes.
Merriam-Webster defines the word sport as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.”
Keyword here is physical exertion. I don’t know about anybody else, but I truly can’t piece together an instance where I can say that playing video games involves any physical involvement.
Investopedia defines eSports as video gaming tournaments that are spectated by large crowds of people. Most of the video games that are considered eSports include fighting games, first-person shooters, real-time strategy, and multiplayer online battle arena games. Some popular titles include “Call of Duty,” “League of Legends,” “Overwatch,” and “Super Smash Bros.”
One could argue that rapid-finger tapping on a controller is a form of physical activity, but can you compare that to a basketball player dunking, a quarterback throwing a football or a baseball player hitting a home run? I sure can’t compare them.
“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,” said former ESPN President John Skipper in a 2018 Recode article.
Meshing eSports into the traditional sports industry takes away the value that traditional sports have built on for centuries. Sports, to me, have always been about being active and going out to enjoy some physical activity. It was a way to get the kids off of their couches and onto a court or field. Sports has been used to promote healthy lifestyles for young people in America and trying to consider eSports a sport defeats the purpose of that.
The “sport” also threatens to normalize or encourage video game addiction within the younger generation.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has labeled video gaming as a potential disorder. The more we keep our youth glued to a screen, then the less we will see health improve within younger generations.
Psychologist Douglas Gentile was featured in a 2016 CNN article for his research and studies on video game addiction. He found that about 8.5 percent of children who play video games in the United States are addicted to them. Gentile mentioned how video game addiction can cause the behavior of young people to change.
“What we started finding in the early research is it did look like some kids were doing worse in school, harming their friendships, harming their family relationships. They couldn’t stop thinking about gaming, it was the only thing that they wanted to do,” said Gentile in the article.
By calling this a sport, it makes it acceptable to spend longer days playing something that could become addictive and could affect a person’s health. But it looks like the trend has been moving fast, and shows no signs of slowing down.
In 2018, the eSports industry was projected to make $905 million in revenue, and could reach into the billions by next year, according to Forbes. The video gaming sport seems to be becoming an investment opportunity that many traditional sports leagues are looking to cash out on.
Over the past years, the National Basketball Association has begun developing its own eSports league. Just this year, the NBA and 17 of its teams launched the league’s first official eSports leagues. It was clear that the NBA was looking to take advantage of the economic opportunities that the million-dollar industry of eSports would bring. But they’re not alone, the National Football League and European soccer leagues have also begun to invest.
“When you have or are able to aggregate that kind of audience, I think there’s a business certainly to be had,” said Philadelphia 76ers CEO Scott O’Neil in an ABC article. “Then you have a business in its embryonic stages with incredible viewership numbers with seemingly a business to follow.”
These investments have already drawn viewership away from traditional sports.
eSports has become so popular, that in 2014 more people watched the “League of Legends” Finals than the last game of the NBA Finals and the World Series.
It surprises me that the NBA would invest in something that it should be trying to overpower. It proves that the money one can gain with an investment in eSports is becoming more important than trying to keep our traditional sports leagues at the same pace.
To me, sports in America was never about how much money you could make, but how you could inspire people with breathtaking moments. eSports has traditional sports leagues caring more about financial opportunities than keeping the significance and integrity of traditional sports.
“I think when you see your traditional sports leagues like the NBA investing on eSports, it just shows that a lot of times those leagues are just in it for the money. They aren’t as concerned about preserving the history that traditional sports have built in America,” said Florida International University student Kevin Tomey sports marketing major. “There has to be a commitment to keeping our traditional sports alive through all of this because eSports aren’t real sports, they’re games.”
I’m not saying that we should do away with professional video gaming entirely. I just don’t want it to be linked with traditional sports, but to be able to do that, it is up to traditional sports fans to speak up.