We Have a Question: What Constitutes a Sport as a Sport

As a new platform of “sporting” rises, many are questioning its legitimacy. Art by Garbrielle Campbell

Security scrambles to get to the entrances, custodial teams hurry to polish the floors and sweep the aisles, renters of the space set up their kiosks, and the PA system is being tested. Media enters to showcase the caliber of the play and the events of the match. The crowd outside gathers…at first a couple, then a few dozen, and now hundreds are waiting at the doors. The anticipation grows as do the murmurs about the event and the prize pool. The stakes are higher now than ever, and will only grow following the competition. Once the gates open, the fans fill the seats. The athletes come out and take the floor to the thunderous cheers of thousands. They’ve worked for thousands of hours for this: millions even, all hanging on one match. The performers sit down, and the contest begins. A new type of sport is being born.

Today, the very concept of sport is evolving. Instead of only gaining fame and fortune by putting the body on the line and pushing the physical limits of human ability for entertainment, it is possible to gain the same things at the taxation of only the mind, trying to outsmart opponents with split-second decisions. There is debate around whether eSports are the same as basketball and football in certain senses. There is greatness on both sides, on different levels, neither one being wrong…but are they equal? Should both be considered legitimate forms of sports?

To some, the answer is a simple no. The value in sport rests in peril and pride and tradition. I interviewed Tyler Nguyen (11), an avid basketball fan and player. He believes that the physical toll that traditional sports take on a person is what earns their higher salary. This idea is backed up by the median salary of an NBA player being 2.5 million dollars and the median NFL salary being 860,000 dollars, while a typical eSports participant only earns 320,000 dollars in a season. Interestingly, the revenues for the professional physical sporting leagues are both slightly higher than one billion dollars, 1.13 billion dollars and 1.32 billion dollars respectively, with eSports worldwide generating just shy of that mark; Forbes is projecting 960 million dollars to be gained in revenue. Ticket sales come to the same conclusion. 21 million people bought NBA seats and over 17 million did the same over a total of 256 games in the NFL regular season. In eSports, that number is much lower because of the lack of live events, though in relation, the ticket prices to eSporting events are much lower than those of tickets for NBA and NFL games.

At the same time, there are some who value commitment and the presence of skill over much else. Dante Walls (11), an avid video game player and someone who is invested in practically all eSports, strongly believes that eSports and other competitive settings are also sports. He deduces that the attention garnered by the event itself should determine salaries, saying, “If the Women’s World Cup’s prize pool is $30 million and the prize pool for a Dota 2 tournament is $25 million, then both [sets of athletes] are playing for what they’ve earned.” The average viewership of individual competitions for the NFL and NBA are higher than that of eSports matches, though other more niche sports do not attain the attention or maintain the presence that eSports do. Just shy of 6 million viewers tuned in for the final of the Wimbledon Tennis Championship, while one match for Dota 2 had an astronomical 106 million viewers at the same time. That is a figure only marginally lower than that of people who watched Super Bowl LIII, which had 111 million people watching worldwide. In video games, what was once simply a pastime for a few outcasts and looked down as a waste of time, is currently a new multi-BILLION dollar business whose platform is only taking off. 

A middle ground that is seemingly shared among the debate is that a sport is not only a physical phenomena. Both Dante and Tyler expressed that as long as there is a skill that can be developed and a base for competition, there is a sport that can be named. “As long as there is a hierarchy and division of levels of play in any way, [any] hobby can be a sport,” said Dante, referring to how a video game player like himself or his friends can either be simply casual gamers or a member of a proper athletic club, or clan. Tyler echoed a similar belief, “As long as you are playing a game in order to get better, and improve…you are playing a sport.”

Some may say that a sport requires physical activity, while others may believe something is a sport if there is a possible ladder of progression. Whether it matters how much money you make or how many people watch you, or if you have much at stake: a trophy, a title, or compensation, Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a sport as “A source of diversion,” and under that…we all play sports, whether psychological, mental, or physical.

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