Can eSport players be called sports athletes?

Electronic sports, or “eSports,” is a term for video game competitions. The global eSports market was estimated to be worth just over US$1.22 billion in 2021 and is projected to increase to US$1.44 billion in 2022. According to Statista, the market is anticipated to develop at a compound yearly growth rate of 21% from 2019 to 2029, reaching a value of US$5.48 billion. In 2020, there was over US$413 million in total prize money awarded at significant eSports events. These statistics demonstrate the expansion of the eSports sector. There is an ongoing discussion about whether eSports qualify as sports despite their popularity and official recognition. This then filters down to the players of these games, and it might be questioned if they are genuine athletes or simply ardent gamers.

Even though professional eSport athletes practise for 8 to 12 hours daily, video games are still seen as a form of leisure in society. According to Khromov and colleagues, a professional eSports player needs to assess the game scenario immediately, respond as quickly as possible throughout numerous game rounds, and maintain focus on the game for an extended period. Professional players of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS: GO) are likely to concentrate on the centre of the screen and have more clicks per minute than average gamers. Jenny et al. argue that it takes skilful coordination to play eSports as players manipulate buttons on a controller or a keyboard to effectively manage their onscreen avatar. A study by Poulus et al. found that, like in traditional sports, eSport players underlined the value of monitoring the replays of other professional teams. The players stay up with the most recent winning techniques and spot weaknesses in prospective future opponents by watching replays of other professional teams. These tactics resemble those employed in conventional sports. As each region plays differently (develops a particular play style), the players also mentioned studying professional teams from other regions. By doing this, they were able to incorporate subtle differences into their play.

The Internationals 2022 (DOTA 2’s premiere event), held at a sellout Singapore Indoor Stadium, had a prize pool of over US$17 million

Asia has been primarily responsible for the recent rise in popularity of competitive video gaming, and South Korea even has a channel devoted to eSports. The potential of eSports is becoming more widely recognised, and universities like the Robert Morris University of Pennsylvania have begun to acknowledge it as a varsity sport funded by their athletics department and are giving “Gaming Scholarships”. Organizations involved in eSports are beginning to treat their players more like real athletes and are spending more money on player performances. Teams like Astralis (a CS: GO squad), who have started to use sports psychologists to help players cope with the pressure in contests, are good examples of this. A dedicated eSports facility in North America was constructed by Team Liquid at a cost of more than US$1.5 million. For approximately 700 professional eSport athletes, the facility offers chefs, nutritionists, gyms, and sports psychologists. This reflects a paradigm shift, with more and more eSport organisations treating their players like real athletes.

What do you think? Are eSports competitors true athletes, and if not, what are your main reasons?


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