Ayesha Asad
Mercury Staff

The ‘E’ in Esports

Why competitive gaming is not a sport

To some, the word “gamer” may conjure a mental image of a sickly, wide-eyed juvenile frantically hammering buttons on a controller, discarded Fritos bags littered around him, but this is hardly the case. Being a gamer requires courage to pursue a passion relentlessly, as professional gamers do. They adhere to a strict regimen and work for hours a day to bring in revenue. Gaming may be their career, but is it a sport? Maybe not.

The rise of esports has been explosive: more than 600,000 people watched the North American League of Legends Championship Series Spring Split Finals in 2019, and ESPN has dedicated a section of their sports page to esports. In this vein, many may be tempted to label playing video games as actual sports. However, popularity does not deem an activity a sport. Rather, physical exertion does. 

According to the Oxford English dictionary, a “sport” is defined as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” By this definition, video games cannot be considered sports, as they do not require physical exertion — generally, the only movement required is pushing buttons. One could delve even further and define “physical exertion,” which, according to Dictionary.com, is “the activity of exerting your muscles in various ways to keep fit.” Clicking a mouse doesn’t result in physical fitness as it does not require one to get in shape or be of a certain build, nor does it require much physical effort. Even sports like golf or darts require significant arm strength in order to swing a club powerfully or throw a dart forcefully towards a target.

Furthermore, if video games were to be considered sports, then chess and other competitive sedentary games would have to be considered sports as well. Though some may argue that chess is a sport, the attitude is far from universal. Board games, card games, chess and esports do not fit the definition of “physical exertion.” 

After playing a particularly difficult game of Monopoly or Clue with your friends, do you feel as though you’ve just finished playing a sport? Have you ever called a game of Solitaire with family a “scrimmage?” Even a game of cards may require more physical exertion than League of Legends, yet hardly anyone considers Slapjack a sport.

Finally, sports promote physical well-being and fitness. eSports, however, do not. Spending inordinate hours in front of a TV or computer is linked to obesity, according to a 2019 study at the University of South Australia. Even professional gamers that have physical trainers only keep fit by doing activities outside of playing online games, such as going to the gym. Other professional gamers don’t exercise as regularly. Rene Pinkera, who won the World of Warcraft world championship at the BlizzCon 2015 tournament, detailed his daily routine, which included minimal physical exercise.

“We do a short warm-up; we do a couple of stretches with our arms and our hands. After that, we play, because that is what it is all about,” Pinkera said. He goes on to say that he and his teammates play “sometimes as many as 12” hours a day.

 And what about casual gamers? They do not have physical trainers. Someone playing video games in their house is not strengthening their body, stamina or health. They aren’t playing a sport. They’re playing a game. 

This doesn’t mean that being at the top of the Fortnite leaderboards doesn’t require precise skill.  Many non-sporty activities require precise skill, such as painting, sculpting and drawing. Gaming is an activity — it is a game, it is a competition  — but it is not a sport.