OPINION: Regarding the sports in esports

There’s no doubt esports are growing in popularity, but are they actually sports? SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

In Thursday’s Oracle, we ran a story about an esports summit that took place Wednesday at the Muma College of Business.

You may have been surprised to learn an industry based on video games is nearing $1 billion in revenue for this year alone — I know I was.

Some speakers at the event even believe esports are the future of sports due to, among other factors, the ease of getting started and the rapid development of new games.

Meanwhile, on our Facebook page, the story received little attention — which, while disappointing, wasn’t totally surprising.

However, the few comments we received didn’t favor esports. One comment simply said “Sports” — with the quotations — and another featured a gif of a gamer alone in his room from an episode of South Park. 

The entire sequence — the speakers saying esports are the future, as well as the derisive comments — left me with an obvious question: esports may be the future, but are they actually sports?

Well, that depends on how the term “sports” is even defined.

Using a dictionary definition is lazy — as well as unfair, as language evolves over time. (See what Webster’s did to the word “literally” a few years back for an example of drastic evolution.)

Let’s actually look at some key aspects sports typically have: skilled participants and a level of competition.

There’s no doubt there’s competition — and usually at a pretty high level — in the kind of esports broadcast on ESPN. Just by the nature of going head-to-head against another player, the competition requirement is met.

A varying degree of skill level is common in all sports. Some players are really good, while some have no business thinking about playing.

No one would dare say LeBron James doesn’t play a real sport because some middle-aged guy also plays basketball. Similarly, there’s a huge difference between playing Overwatch with pizza grease on your fingers in your mom’s basement and for a $1 million purse in an arena.

The difference between LeBron and the middle-aged guy is training. In a similar fashion, a skilled esports player can’t just pick up playing in their free time after work. It takes time and dedication to gain the skill necessary to compete at a high level. Video games aren’t an easy pastime, as any novice to RPGs can attest to.

Sports video games are their own challenge, too. I have no problem winning the Stanley Cup in EA’s NHL series when playing on Beginner mode, but if I increase the setting to Intermediate, or anything higher than that, I run the risk of winning the same number of games the real Lightning won in the playoffs last season.

These games aren’t easy, and even if you’ve been playing video games for as long as your cognitive memory goes back like I have, you still might wind up being awful.

So, are esports actually sports?

They seem to pass the test.

Like in most accepted sports, anyone can play, but not everyone can be great.

It may seem wacky thinking of gamers as athletes — and whether they are is a different topic for a different day.

But society gradually began accepting driving a car in a circle for hours as a sport. Is acceptance of esports really that far out there?

Fox Sports Florida’s Paul Kennedy — who has seen and covered all sorts of sports in his long career — summed it up nicely during the summit to Oracle Staff Writer Nolan Brown.

“It’s no more improbable than the original Greeks believing that one day baseball will be a part of the Olympics.”