There is a popular form of sports in this day and age, called esports, which features athletes that play video games for extended periods of time and aiming for certain hard to reach goals as a team. It’s not too much different than more normal sports in that way. But there are questions that often surround such sporting events, namely: can a game player be considered an athlete? It’s not traditional in any sense whatsoever, so that alone makes people question it. And you aren’t running down a field, burning thousands of calories, sweating excessively, etc, making another argument against players truly being called athletes. But before I get to the meat of the article, as to whether game players in esports can be truly called athletes, I will hit you with some cold numbers to show how huge this movement is.
Do you consider the MLB to be a big sport? How about the NBA? Of course you do, even if you hate baseball and basketball respectively. They have millions of fans that follow the events through live attendance and watching on television. Did you know that in the last few years esports has drawn TV viewers that actually beat quite a few events by each of these sports? In 2013, just for an example, The League of Legends Season 3 World Championship (obviously an esports event) was viewed by 32 million viewers. Want to know how other major events compared? By sport: BCS National Championsip-26 million; NBA Game 7 Finals-26 million; NCAA Basketball Final Four-15 million; MLB World Series-14 million. As you can see by those numbers, nothing in that list comes close to that one esport event. How about the mighty NFL, the 800 pound gorilla in this country? Can esports compare to that major event? That same 2013 even, at 32 million viewers, beat the 2012 NFL Wildcard playoff between the Atlanta Falcons and New York (football) Giants, which hit 27 million viewers. A later playoff game in the NFL (I’m assuming from 2013 but I’m not seeing a date) between the Seattle Seahawks *ahemboo* and Washington Redskins hit 38 million viewers. A major playoff game in the NFL was only a bit above that one major esports event. That is huge!
So clearly we can see that esports can draw major audiences, comparable to and even better than other major sporting events. That cannot be questioned, it’s numbers and facts. But does that make participants athletes? I have to say both yes and no. No in that they aren’t actually doing all that much, just sitting in front of a screen watching things happen. It’s not an athletic endeavor to push buttons down on a controller, like in the image I posted with this story. You may argue that NASCAR drivers just sit in their cars and are considers athletes, but studies on their bodies in events prove that they go through just as much as any other major athlete from driving in their events. In races it gets up to 150 degrees in the car and they can burn up to 6,000 calories in a single event. You won’t ever see that from pushing buttons on a controller. Don’t get me wrong, I know that in no way is it easy for these esports guys to get to the top of their game (pun intended). I know it takes years of playing to get good and that it’s not easy to be at that level. But I’m not sure it makes you an athlete. But then again, maybe I’m wrong and need to take a step back?
Okay, no matter what world you live in, pushing buttons on a controller and looking at a screen can’t be considered athletic, even for hours at a time. It can wear you down, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not athletic. But what about the effect a game can have on you, which counts physically? True, you aren’t an athlete for button mashing, but the effects of what’s on the screen can be a true physical challenge which, in that case, makes a powerful argument for these folks being considered athletes, at least in some form. When playing Five Nights at Freddy’s, for example, I know that my heart rate is through the roof when waiting on the eventual deaths and trying to avoid them. The 4th game really shows this, when you have to run to the doors and wait on what you’re going to do; that’s tense and my heart is through my chest as I’m playing. The same has been true when I’ve played iRacing in the past, though not because I was scared. It was nerves over going to the starting line and having a safe race while being aggressive when needed. I dealt with anxiety and my hands would shake because of being nervous when making a dangerous move trying to gain track position. It takes me calming myself down to endure and race the event successfully. Keep in mind, I’m talking about a game, not a real race at a local track somewhere.
Those are just two examples that show that yes indeed a game can affect you physically. I wouldn’t say I’m an athlete for playing iRacing or Five Nights at Freddy’s, but let me tell you, the physical things your body can go through while playing some games certainly is real. My heart flying through my chest in Freddy isn’t fake or a digital event, it’s my real heart really reacting to a game. Same for the iRacing, or any other game for that matter. So my answer to the question as to whether you can be considered an athlete when playing a video game? I have to say: maybe. Certainly not in any traditional manner at all. But the effects you go through physically, which are very real, do take endurance to get through and can prove your prowess in more ways than just in button pushing. That’s my final answer! What’s yours? Do you think an esports participant can be called an athlete?