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Playing Video Games Is A Sport

Having spent a large part of June and July watching England footballers walking round a football pitch looking like they did not want to be there has made me think about the concept of a sport.  To be more precise I’m going to claim right here, right now that playing video games should be considered a sport.

Of course you are thinking that the very idea of millions of gamers suddenly being able to call themselves athletes is ridiculous but leaving emotion out of the argument and purely looking at facts might make you question the age old tradition that as gamers we don’t play enough sports.

What defines a sports?  Wikipedia offers this definition “A sport is a physical activity or skill carried out under a publicly agreed set of rules, and with a recreational purpose: for competition, for self-enjoyment, to attain excellence, for the development of skill, or some combination of these. The difference of purpose is what characterises sport, combined with the notion of individual (or team) skill or prowess. In essence, a sport is a competitive game.”

To take the time to dissect each part of that definition and relate it back to video games is not where this article is going next. Instead let’s take a few names of activities currently accepted as sports and compare and contrast them back to playing video games.

Chess: Anyone can play chess but to be the best requires great concentration and logical thinking. It’s a individual game against another opponent. There are countless video games which could be used to match this description and as an example lets use StarCraft.  You move your pieces around the board trying to defeat your opponent by killing their ‘king’

Snooker / Pool: The table is a very well maintained, clean surface and the balls are polished and without blemish.  The player needs to account for positioning of the balls and the power required to pot the target ball and line up the next shot.  It’s all about being able to predict where the balls will finish once your shot is complete.   Playing most action video games require some form of forecast anticipation e.g. accurately predicting where the scenery will fall in Battlefield: Bad Company 2 allows you to plan your next move.

Motorsport (F1 racing): There is no doubt that the drivers are skilled drivers but the cars themselves are finely tuned machines that the driver simply has to know how to operate and react to track conditions and positions of their opponents.  Any racing game can be used as a direct comparison here as the game is programmed with code to challenge the gamer to adjust their driving according to the weather conditions, the driving surface and the opponents.

This is not a game controller. It's a F1 steering wheel

Of course, the chosen sports above are not very physical but many gamers will recall a time when then played a very exciting online or even offline match where their heartrate was raised and they maybe only just won by the skin of their teeth.  The big outward sigh of relief when you cross the chequered flag in first place, the final kill in a deathmatch, these experiences often leave the gamer with an adrenaline rush similar to that felt during a physical sport.

Professional sports are successful due to the spectators and the best example of spectators watching the sport of video games has to be in Korea where two TV channels are dedicated to StarCraft.  Try telling these players and viewers that it’s more important to chase a pigskin ball around a pitch to cross a line or kick it into a net.

Hopefully this article has made you challenge the concept of playing video games being accepted as a sport.  The skill and dedication to practice to be the best at a game surely puts it on a par with some of the lesser known sports at least.

As a parting shot I leave you with the names of some other ‘sports’.  Darts, Cheese Rolling, Dwarf Tossing, Curling.

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  • Red

    Good article.

    There is very little competitive gaming in the West, contrary to what is believed. The games we compete in are not the most highly skilled games in their respective genres either, they are only what is popular. For example, when competitive FPSing was young, they used games like Quake, and bred stars like Fatal1ty. These games were as much about strategy as the ones today, but they moved so quickly that you had to have the reflexes of a god to be good at them. Today, people play Halo competitively, a game that was clearly designed to create a more level playing field for everyone. The “gaming as a sport” argument waivers under the fact that the games that are most often played in a sporting fashion, as the echelon on competition no less, are the sporting equivalent of tee ball or flag football as compared to baseball and football. Halo as the echelon of FPS competition is like having everyone in the Tour Du France have training wheels.

    I think one important point you miss here is that you cannot simply say “gaming” is a sport, that would imply all games can be sports, and gaming is far too broad to categorize in such a way. Not only this, but many competitive games are made as approximations of real world activities, many of which you could actually compete in. One could say that FPS games could be played in the real world through AirSoft and paintball matches. Could Madden be considered a sport? No, because it is a digital approximation of something you could really compete in. What gaming does is offer the competition of these kinds of things, but without the physical labor and training. With that being said, I do not think any approximation of real world competition could be considered a sport.

    A game like Starcraft is different, as it truly is like digital chess. Starcraft is not an approximation of competition, not does it aspire to garner any kind of physical skills, it is simply a game of minds and a complicated one at that. I feel like this is as close to a real sport as any game is right now. It is not competition based on something you could actually compete in in real life, it is a self contained experience.

    Overall, even though the definition of “sport” opens the door for gaming as such, defition does not lie in books, but in the minds of the people. There is a reason why professional Jenga is not considered a sport, and for the same reasons gaming will not be either. Even though gamers may have to spend time on a game honing their crafts, the work that goes into playing a physical sport is just too great, and just too respected, for the people to consider anything less. It works in a place like Korea for as many reasons outside of gaming as for gaming reasons, and it just is not something people could duplicate in the West.

    It’s really an argument with no right answers, to be fair. Because of the nature of sport itself, the only thing that makes something a true sport is the collective opinion of it. I believe for gaming to truly be considered a sport among the people, a game must come along that is highly competitive, and does not approximate anything in the real world at all. Then gaming will have something absolutely no one else can come close to, and through this gaming will find its competitive identity. For now, with competitive gaming spanning many different games and genres, with those games changing every few years, it just wont happen. Non soccer players love watching it none the less, how many non game players want to watch someone play a game?

  • I personally say No, gaming is not a sport. I also do not consider pool or chess to be sports either.
    They are both games, yes. Which are played in big competitions with great skill, sure.
    But my reasoning lies in the very example you began with:
    “a PHYSICAL activity or skill”

    What separates a Sport from a Game, is the Physically athletic aspect.
    You wouldn’t refer to a chess player as an athlete, nor a gamer.
    All sports are games. But not all games are sports.
    Almost all games are competitive (if not against people against AI in the case of video games.)
    Also not all competitions are games either.
    Ever heard of people trying to grow the biggest pumpkin or dog shows?

    I am a gamer myself and I personally hate that this argument even exists.
    I think the reasoning is a mixture of people disapproving of people’s habits to play alot of video games and perhaps not get alot of exercise, and the gamer themselves wanting acceptance.
    Just because you like to spend most of your time doing something that other people don’t approve of in some way, doesn’t mean you should try to alter the definition or label of it so that they feel like they have to accept it.

    With that said…Game on brother

  • Willz Nz

    gaming is definitely a sport im only 15 but i get involved in clan matches and stuff in call od duty and it is a really big team game and when you win it’s like winning a rugby match or grid iron match against some team its awesome

  • Sean

    WOW Just wow this dosent say anything