Why I Changed My Mind & Believe eSports Is A Sport, Part 1: Defining Elements

America’s state-sponsored religion.
— Urban Dictionary, top definition of "sports"

League of Legends 2014 World Championships

League of Legends 2014 World Championships

What is the definition of a "sport" (as a noun referring to a game rather than a person, obviously)? Is there one mutually agreed upon definition? Oh, gosh no.

For example, the Cambridge dictionary defines "sport" as "a game, competition, or similar activity, done for enjoyment or as a job, that takes physical effort and skill and is played or done by following particular rules." The Oxford dictionary takes it a little further, defining "sport" as "an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for enjoyment." Merriam-Webster kind of makes it a two-parter, stating that it is "a contest or game in which people do certain physical activities according to a specific set of rules and compete against each other" but also provides a lesser definition of "a physical activity (such as hunting, fishing, running, swimming, etc.) that is done for enjoyment."

Different organizations worldwide have their own take on the word's meaning, too. The Australian Sports Commission says a sport is "a human activity capable of achieving a result requiring physical exertion and/or physical skill, which, by its nature and organization, is competitive and is generally accepted as being a sport." England's Charities Act of 2006 contains a pretty broad definition, stating that a sport is "sports or games which promote health by involving physical or mental skill or exertion." Moreover, the European Sports Charter says "all forms of physical activity which, through casual or organised participation, aim at expressing or improving physical fitness and mental well-being, forming social relationships or obtaining results in competition at all levels" are sports.

Over a beer on Thursday, I asked my boyfriend how he would differentiate a sport from a non-sport. He pretty much agreed with me on most of my suggestions but struggled to pinpoint a definition or particular elements that he would focus on in a direct comparison. So, he flatly said "whatever is in the Olympics" is a sport. This is how the conversation flowed from there:

Jaime: Do you consider golf a sport?

Mike: Yeah.

Jaime: You know, golf was just added to the 2016 Olympics for the first time in like 100 years. [It was the first time golf was in the Olympics since the Summer 1904 Games.]

Mike: Oh, wow.

Jaime: Do you know what else was pretty much allowed in 2016 unofficially?

Mike: No?

Jaime: eSports! [In 2015, the Korean Olympic Committee recognized eSports as a "2nd level Olympic sport" and the IOC allowed the International eSports Federation ("IeSF") to host a pop-up event alongside the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. The IeSF applied with the IOC for consideration as a "sport" & is currently under review.]

Mike: ... most things in the Olympics are sports. E-sports is NOT a sport.

So, Mike changed his initial categorization because he had an established bias against against eSports. It is clear that our tastes and opinions shape what we individually and collectively as a society consider a real sport (as opposed to #fakesports? I'm officially starting the awareness campaign right here, right now.) Many definitions have similar components within them, while some have more distinct pieces that reveal a bit of taste. If we go even further, we could get pickier and analyze the uses of "and" or "or" within each definition to expand the view.

Here, being as objective as possible, is what I have gathered as the primary components of what makes something a sport:

A "sport" is a game/contest/activity that has...

  1. Physical exertion
  2. Physical skill
  3. Mental exertion or skill
  4. A set of rules to follow
  5. Competition among persons or teams
  6. Human element

... as it fits within society at that time.

So, what does that all mean? I believe what is considered a sport evolves and becomes molded based on external factors that affect internally how we view things. The six elements listed above are hardcore shaped by societal views. What level of each element is required? How do we measure such levels? Do we even need to measure, or can we just assume? Can we come to an agreement?

I am going to argue that eSports IS a sport according to these seemingly stringent elements because in today's society, it is appropriate.

If you disagree with me outright or are laughing at my suggestion right about now, my guess is that you think either (a) eSports is a complete joke for geeks who have nothing better to do with their lives, or (b) eSports involves sitting in front of a computer with zero physical engagement. Don't both of those views have at least shades of bias instilled within them? What is traditional now was once new. eSports is very new.and VERY popular worldwide. It is not going anywhere any time soon.

Admittedly, I am a recent convert to the side for which I am going to argue. Over the next few weeks leading up to my next podcast at the end of February, I will write a series of posts that discuss eSports facts, analyze the elements of a sport, and apply the eSports facts to those elements. You may still not agree with me by the end of this, but hopefully you will hear me out to have a greater understanding of the eSports world and give it the respect it deserves.