April 18, 2024 opinion

Esports is a sport. Period

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Christian Yeung in Connecticut, United States | Hong Kong

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November 19, 2023, South Korea. The finals of the League of Legends (LoL) Worlds 2023 multiplayer game e-sport competition were held at the Gocheok Sky Dome baseball stadium, which has nearly 17,000 seats.

Picture by: Riot Games Media Center

Esports is one of the fastest-growing sports worldwide and is expected to generate around $4.3bn in 2024.

Despite its rapid growth, competitive online gaming isn’t given the same respect as basketball or football, with many still believing it is just an activity for lazy nerds sitting in their mom’s basement. So why should esports be considered a sport?

The highest peak viewer count for esports was recorded last year with almost 6.4mn concurrent viewers at the World Championship Final for League of Legends.

The most recent Asian Games also featured esports for the first time in seven medal events, including games such as League of Legends and DOTA2.

 

 

While esports may not seem as physically demanding as sports like basketball, it undoubtedly challenges a player’s mental abilities, with the closest example being chess.

The brain is a key element in any sport, but it’s particularly important in esports since each game has hundreds of mechanics which require plenty of knowledge and strategies to win.

Furthermore, there are physical components to esports. Take one of the most popular games, League of Legends as an example: it requires precise movements of your fingers and hands to hit enemies in the game, as well as fast reflexes and reaction times to perform well.

Many esports also have a team aspect to them. As teams compete against each other for the win, communication and cooperation become vital for success.

I spoke with caster (sports commentator) Jake “Hysterics” Osypenko, who has been working on League of Legends since 2015.

He believes recognizing esports as a sport can put it “on the mainstream lines” and have “the same kind of traction as things like chess…which people call a sport,” even though “there’s nothing physical about it.”

Osypenko says that “esports players deserve the same kind of recognition as people in sport…they should be rewarded as such.”

One key example of this was the Asian Games where esports was already introduced as a demonstration sport in 2018.

In the latest edition, it is now a competition event. The South Korean League of Legends team won gold and was awarded with exemption from military service. This is an honour given to athletes and classical artists who perform well at certain competitions. It’s an incredibly difficult privilege to obtain, one that even the world-famous K-pop group BTS were unable to achieve.

Differences between the East and the West also seem to be a crucial factor. Osypenko mentioned a distinct difference in mentality between regions stronger in esports, such as China and Korea, compared to Europe, North America, and smaller regions such as Vietnam and South America.

In Chinese and Korean culture, it’s “all about the grind.” There is a mindset to give 100% to your work and this applies to esports as well, where 24-hour practice days would not be out of the ordinary.

Although families and society in both regions still don’t celebrate esports to the same degree that traditional sports are applauded, there is definitely much more support and infrastructure for Eastern esports players.

Now that sports governing bodies are including esports in their official list of events, the growth of the esports scene remains hopeful – and it is my hope as well that something I dedicate so much of my time to watching and playing can be considered popular and mainstream.

Yet, there does seem to be a gap in viewing and understanding esports that doesn’t seem to be bridged. Games like League of Legends and Valorant are difficult to understand, as unlike football or basketball, it’s not easy to pick it up and grasp all the complexities of it.

Simple shooter games such as Counter-Strike don’t have as much of a problem, with a “kill everyone to win” objective, but such a violent game will never be able to branch out so everyone can watch it. A game that is accessible and enjoyable to both hardcore fans and casual viewers may not currently exist.

Osypenko believes that “it’ll be a game, rather than a time,” for esports to break through into more mainstream audiences.

In the meantime, esports will keep becoming more and more popular as streaming sites such as Twitch and YouTube keep viewers and players in tune with the latest games and news.

When the next video game sensation comes along and finally solidifies esports and gaming as more than just an activity for lazy nerds sitting in their mom’s basement, just remember: I said it here first.

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Christian Yeung

Society editor

Hong Kong | United States

Born in 2006 in Hong Kong, Christian Yeung studies at the Taft School in the US. His academic interests are in History and English, especially in literature.

His hobbies include playing squash, the violin, and the drums, as well as cooking.  He also enjoys writing stories and articles, as well as participating in community service both in and out of school.

He speaks Mandarin, Cantonese, and English.

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Justin Sau

Culture editor

Hong Kong, SAR

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