Gaming has become a popular and well-accepted hobby for many people. But most avid gamers and non-gamers have a common question, “Is gaming a sport?”
The advent of competitive gaming and international competitions promising millions of dollars in cash prizes has more people debating if we can consider video games a sport.
Traditional sports fans will shun the idea outright since gaming lacks the physical element that typically defines sports.
However, esports enthusiasts argue that professional gaming requires extensive practice, effort, and dedication like traditional sports. They also point out that competitive gaming involves some level of physical exertion.
Let’s dive into the reasons why gaming should and shouldn’t be a sport.
We also shed light on how video games compare to traditional sports for a well-rounded overview that looks at both sides of the argument.
Reasons Why Gaming Should Be a Sport
Why should gaming be a sport? There are many compelling arguments on this side of the fence such as:
One of the most powerful arguments for classifying competitive gaming as a sport is its physical demands.
A 2016 study by the German Sports University in Cologne reported that eSports athletes experience high levels of physical strain during competitions just like traditional athletes. It also explained that gamers’ heart rates could reach 160 to 180 beats per minute—similar to that of marathon runners—during competitions.
Gamers also exhibited cortisol levels comparable to that of F1 drivers.
Moreover, many popular competitive games require a complex level of tactical understanding for players to win. These games force players to quickly react to opponents and create strategies on the fly. So, professional gaming simultaneously activates different areas of the brain.
Also, professional gaming calls for highly refined motor skills and hand-eye coordination. The same 2016 study established that players use their keyboard and mouse 400 times a minute on average. That’s four times more than your average person.
Teamwork and Communication
Similar to traditional sports, video games can teach players to communicate and collaborate. Several games demand that players work in teams which necessitates good team dynamics, communication, and coordination.
Though some games allow players to succeed on their own in their early stages, the higher levels can only be beat with collaboration and teamwork. Hence, video games are great tools for fostering teamwork and social skills among players.
Over the past few years, several researchers have explored how video games affect the mental health, intelligence, cognitive development, and behavior of children. They discovered that playing video games offers many benefits, particularly in these aspects.
Young players who regularly play games often have higher IQs than those who don’t play. At the same time, video games improve spatial cognition, attention, memory, perception, problem-solving skills, and multitasking skills.
In addition, they enhance cognitive flexibility, allowing players to quickly switch strategies as they respond to challenges.
Other studies credit gaming with boosting creativity and persistence. A 2013 study found that college students who regularly played games showed greater persistence in accomplishing challenging cognitive tasks than their peers who didn’t.
Gaming also improved motivation, conscientiousness, impulse control, and academic performance.
Dedication, Practice, and Training
Becoming an esports professional requires you to consistently dedicate time and practice to your craft. The more skilled you become, the higher you can rise through the ranks of competitive gaming.
But esports athletes don’t only play a few games in the morning and laze around all day. Like traditional athletes, they usually belong to a professional team and have coaches, rigorous training routines, and a healthy diet. Many also stay physically active, adhere to proper sleep schedules, and socialize in the real world.
Professional gamers do strength training to prevent common esports injuries, such as tennis elbow or carpal tunnel syndrome. Physical training also improves coordination and responsiveness.
Since 2017, many bespoke esports venues have popped up worldwide—with Canada, China, the US, and the UK having some of the largest arenas.
Canada’s Toronto Esports Arena, set to open in 2025, will have 7,000 seats, while China’s Three Gorges Harbor Esports Stadium holds 6,000 fans. Meanwhile, the UK’s Dundee Esports Arena accommodates 4,000 spectators, and the Esports Stadium Arlington in the US holds 2,500 visitors.
Esports prize pools are also enormous and will only grow in the future. DOTA 2 International, one of the world’s biggest annual esports events, has a $40 million prize pool, which includes crowdfunded prize pools. The League of Legends World Championship and the Fortnite World Cup Championship are other worthy mentions.
Besides new arenas, esports were also digitally included at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics backed by Intel. Intel also plans to give esports more visibility at upcoming Olympic editions.
Moreover, in January 2020, over 443 million people worldwide regularly watched esports tournaments.
These developments show that esports are becoming a recognized form of sport by more official bodies and members of the public.
Another valid reason for treating gaming as a sport is that it offers inclusivity for all kinds of players. A 2008 survey showed that over 20% of casual gamers are physically, mentally, or developmentally disabled.
Although disabilities may make it challenging to play many traditional sports, video games often level the playing field. Almost anyone can play video games whether they struggle to walk or perform regular activities with ease.
Games also allow disabled players to connect with other people and make friends.
Studies have also reported that active video games promote the development of motor skills in children with autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, and Down syndrome. These games also improve muscular fitness and motor competence among overweight or obese children.
Reasons Gaming Shouldn’t Be a Sport
Most arguments against counting gaming as a sport appear to come from traditional sports fans. They argue that video games are not sports since they lack the typical physical elements that characterize sports like football, basketball, cricket, rugby, and running.
Even if we count moving the joystick and tapping the keyboard and mouse as physical exertion, the playing field is still limited. Barring active video games, most games do not push players to be active and instead contribute to sedentary lifestyles.
Another concern is that excess gaming can lead to addiction, but setting gaming hours can mitigate this issue.
Also, many consoles like the Nintendo Switch have built-in features to help deal with addiction. Loved ones of gamers can download an app that helps them schedule gaming time on the console.
If players exceed this set time, the app allows their loved ones to send a reminder to the console. If players keep playing despite the reminder, their loved ones can shut down the console remotely.
Gaming vs Traditional Sports
As the name denotes, traditional sports are tradition. We have known their rules for hundreds of years, and there is no need to alter them. The only difference seen in traditional sports—be it soccer, running, or javelin throwing—is new records.
In contrast, the gaming industry is ever-changing and constantly experiencing breakthroughs and improvements. Esports competitions can also revise their rules over time, especially with the availability of new equipment and the release of new games.
Why Is Competitive Gaming Booming?
Competitive gaming is witnessing growing interest from gamers, fans, and tournament organizers globally since it is more accessible. Like traditional sports, anyone can follow esports and enjoy watching their favorite team’s struggles. Viewers can also become casual or professional gamers and explore the other side of the coin.
They can also buy titles of their favorite teams and engage in competitive gameplay in similar settings using similar strategies. Also, new video games boast better quality and guarantee a seamless viewing and playing experience. It creates new career and income opportunities since more people can enter competitions and organize, finance, and manage them.
Are video games a sport? Yes and no, depending on who you ask. Traditional sports enthusiasts still consider gaming as merely a form of entertainment or hobby. Also, sports TV channels only broadcast conventional sports matches and tournaments.
Meanwhile, professional gaming live streams are limited to platforms like YouTube and Twitch.
That said, gaming requires constant skill training, exceptional focus, dedication, and team cooperation. Also, esports professionals earn up to millions of dollars, have a large fan base, and enjoy more fame than some Hollywood veterans. Esports also have dedicated venues, competitions, prize pools, and viewership.
This means the gaming industry will soon get its due recognition as an official sport, creating more legitimate careers for people globally.
A third argument sits somewhere in the middle, suggesting that gaming does not have to be a sport. It may lack the physical exertion of traditional sports but still demands fast reaction times, refined motor skills, and excellent strategy formation skills. Esports have different demands that offer an experience unique to it.