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Is An Esport Really a Sport? 

The rise of the esports empire and profession.

Source: Sean Do/Unsplash
Source: Source: Sean Do/Unsplash

In the last five years, the world has witnessed a massive explosion in gaming. Not just any kind of gaming, but competitive gaming known as esports.

In 2017, esports’ revenue hit $1.5 billion, and it’s expected to reach $2.3 billion by 2022. The vast financial growth has attracted investors from all over the globe, like moths to a flame, as they see the untapped potential that resides within esports.

OK, we understand that the esports industry looks like a money-making machine, but what are ‘esports’?

An esport is an organised individual competitive video game played for cash prizes and winnings. Not every video game is an esport, but every esport is a video game. For example, Halo is an esport but The Sims is not. Examples of different esports include, FIFA, Rocket League, Street Fighter, League of Legends (LoL), and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO).

To elaborate on esports further, there are a range of different genres of esports, each with its own task demands, objectives and rules.

Game genre: First Person Shooter (FPS).

Description: A weapon-based game where one player controls one character. Your objectives are to: eliminate your opponents, achieve your in-game objectives and prevent the enemy from achieving theirs.

Examples: CS:GO, Call of Duty (CoD).

Game genre: Real-Time Strategy (RTS).

Description: A strategy-based game where one player has control of an army and is against another player and their army. Your objectives are to: develop your army, formulate strategies to defend your base and invade your opponent’s base.

Example: Starcraft.

Game genre: Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA).

Description: Similar to real-time strategy games. Instead of a 1v1 competition format, MOBAs involve a team of players competing against another team of players. Each player controls one character. Your objectives are to: defend your base and invade your opponent’s base.

Examples: LoL, Defense of the Ancients (Dota).

Game genre: Racing.

Description: A racing simulation game where a player controls a vehicle. Your objectives are to: navigate through a course and race faster than your opponents.

Examples: Formula 1, Forza, Gran Turismo.

Game genre: Sport.

Description: A traditional sport-based game. Your objective is to outscore your opponent within a time limit.

Examples: FIFA, NBA 2K.

Game genre: Fighting.

Description: A fighting simulation game where a player controls one character. Your objectives are to: inflict as much damage on your opponent as possible and limit the amount of damage inflicted on you within a time limit.

Examples: Street Fighter, Super Smash Bros.

Game genre: Battle Royale.

Description: A weapon-based, multiplayer online game. A player can compete on their own or as part of a team. Each player controls one character. They compete in an arena with multiple opponents. Your objectives are to: eliminate your opponents and achieve your in-game objectives.

Examples: Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battleground (PUBG), Apex Legends.

Please note that this list is not an exhaustive as there are additional genres. Furthermore, the categorisation of which esport belongs to which genre (or collection of genres) can be complex.

Great, so esport has sport in its title, but is it really a sport?

You may be thinking, “For something to be considered a sport doesn’t it have to involve a major physical component?” On the contrary, the definition of sport is much more elaborate than simply involving a major physical component, such as running. Formula 1, snooker and darts are all considered sports, but differ in the extent they involve a major physical component. Therefore, there are additional characteristics that define a sport.

Esports share a lot of similar characteristics as traditional sports: (1) organisation, (2) competition, (3) skill, (4) physicality, and (5) a broad following. Esports meet these criteria as they involve:

  1. Organised tournaments with detailed rules and regulations.
  2. Competitions requiring the presence of an opponent and having winners and losers.
  3. Winning that is not solely reliant on luck or chance, but reliant on coordinated play, decision making, character management and intelligence.
  4. Fine motor skill movements, precision and hand-eye coordination.
  5. A massive following evidenced by competition viewership, crowd attendance and the establishment of additional organised teams.

Consequently, esports can be categorised as sports.

Final words

Although a somewhat controversial debate, an esport can be considered a sport. With this consideration enters the interest of sport-related disciplines investigating how they can best fit within the esports industry. This includes physiotherapy, nutrition and psychology, to name a few.

Over the last year, I have been working in the esports industry, connecting with Fnatic, Excel, ESL and other major esports organisations. Through this experience, I’ve been able to witness the psychological demands that exist within the esports industry.

The most common question I get is, “How do traditional sports and esports differ?” My short answer is they are very similar in terms of the psychological demands placed on the performers. This is a question that co-author Phil Birch addresses in his recent study looking at the stressors and coping strategies of elite esports athletes. This blog series will use my experiences, Birch’s research, and other studies to highlight the psychological demands placed on esports athletes. Future posts will explore the psychological side of other key stakeholders within esports, such as coaches, parents, fans, and organizational managers, which have not yet received much research attention.