Why I Changed My Mind & Believe eSports is a Sport, Part 4: The Argument
Everything from Parts 1, 2, and 3 come together here and now. Heck, maybe I have even convinced you already that eSports is positively a "sport" merely by exposing you to the basics of this relatively new activity that is still in its infancy. Let's dive into the nitty gritty argument, though, because this is what us lawyers like to do. Plus, I genuinely believe that every sports fan should be open to learning about eSports and hear this out:
1. eSports is a game/contest/activity that has physical exertion.
Physical exertion is the activity of engaging your muscles in various ways to keep fit, usually in a fairly strenuous or costly way. The definition has three variables: (1) using muscles' perceived force or energy, (2) in a considerable way, & (3) for the purpose of keeping in shape. For example, hockey players engage muscles in their legs and core to skate around the ice. They also have to derive a lot of power to move quickly and maintain balance much more so than when they sit on the bench in between rotations. Moreover, they do so to perform their best in-game and keep their strength and performance ability at its utmost highest day in and day out. On the other hand, professional poker does not require anything resembling physical exertion because the minimal physical activity of holding, placing down, and picking up cards is not demanding, vigorous use of muscle in the body that could potentially result in muscle strain, injury, or the like. Pretty much any traditional sport has an analogous argument since it is one of the most highly touted elements.
Here, eSports also has an analogous argument and satisfies all three variables of "physical exertion" because when looking through the players' point of view, muscles are engaged in a strenuous way in games & continue to be used in a manner to keep fit. Although fingers contain zero muscle, there are 35 muscles in your hand and forearm that allow your fingers to move. eSports requires players to engage 35 muscles in their palms and forearms, and the hand's biomechanics "require that the force generated by the muscles which bend the fingertips must be at least four times the pressure which is produced at the fingertips." In other words, that is hella force - hella force and demand that even surprises scientists who study eSports players' motor skills and capabilities. That hella force is used in a considerable way in eSports because amateur gamers play games or series that can last hours, and professional participants play "best of" series where each game in the series rarely ends in under 30 minutes. All that time does not even include the six to twelve hours of training professional eSports players can clock each day.
Moreover, professional eSports players are in pinnacle shape for their activity - just like professional athletes - and work out and tend to those muscles like professional athletes. This is in deep contrast to professional poker, which is a game that people who believe eSports is not a sport love to compare to eSports. No professional poker player has ever experienced a muscle injury in the usual course of the game (correct me if I am wrong, but I would love to hear a story where it happened!), meaning a hand or forearm muscle injury, because that physical motion is not strenuous or costly or vigorous. Conversely, eSports athletes have issues with carpal tunnel, and many teams have team doctors catering to player injuries as traditional sports teams do, evidencing a much more vigorous and strenuous muscle engagement. These variables altogether rise to a level of physical exertion that traditional sports entail.
2. eSports has not only physical exertion but also physical skill.
As a general principle, physical skill refers to any form of activity that involves the use of the body to perform a task. It is a simpler concept than physical exertion but an essential element nonetheless. A skill is not mastery but an ability or dexterity. Moreover, quite a few "sports" involve physical skill to perform a task utilizing some tool or technology. Hockey players use their arms to control the puck via a hockey stick; lacrosse players use their arms similar to hockey players; (if you consider golf a sport) golfers use their arms to control the golf ball via a club; tennis players use a racquet to hit the ball over the net; baseball batters use their arms to control the ball via a bat. So, a sport can involve physical skill, and that skill does not need to go unassisted.
Here, eSports players are constantly using their fingers to control their character via the keyboard or controller. It is true that the movements themselves are contained to a smaller area than that of traditional sports, but the use of the body does not have to be a grand gesture to be a physical skill. I would go as far to say that the dexterity of eSports players is comparable to the dexterity of a baseball player hitting a home run or a golfer hitting a nice drive because despite them being stationary at the time, they use a physical skill to perform the task of hitting the keys or ball, respectively. eSports does involve hand, forearm, and finger dexterity as a physical skill.
3. eSports requires mental exertion or skill.
Mental exertion, like physical exertion, involves vigorous engagement, but rather than being vigorous engagement of the body, it is vigorous engagement of the mind. Furthermore, mental skill is more general than mental exertion in that it refers to any form of activity that involves the use of the mind to perform a task as opposed to a great mental effort. Football is a game that requires both mental skill and mental exertion because players have to maintain focus to a certain degree and, if they are good, quickly analyze the situation, make predictions, and execute plays. Not all traditional sports athletes need to rely on such a high level of mental engagement, though, because amateurs or recreational participants can shift that effort more toward coaches and staff. So, that is why I say at least mental skill is required, but if we are talking on the professional level, mental exertion is the more proper element.
Here, eSports mirrors traditional sports because all players have to engage mentally in the strategy and execution of gameplay, and professional players do so in an insanely strenuous, vigorous manner. The focus required, the mental stamina, and the ability to perform asymmetrical motions with their hands while comprehending strategy expeditiously rises to a level that some traditional sports do not entail. I do not think this point goes highly contested since the bulk of the counterargument rests in the physical and human elements. Thus, let us move along.
4. eSports has a set of rules to follow.
Rules give an activity a governed structure from the ground up. At the base, the game itself has a set of "how to play" rules that players must follow. More specifically, there are rules that people who are involved with the game but are not players must follow such as coaches, officials, team staff, organization and/or developer staff, spectators, and league staff. A game's league usually has another set of rules for competition in addition to the usual "how to play" rules. All of this makes sense so that the game is "an agreed upon understanding to competition" of what is and is not allowed in an ideally consistent and unbiased way.
Here, each game in the eSports category has its own "agreed upon understanding" as to how the game is played and how competition commences, as evidenced by the fact that there are international players, teams, and leagues. Riot's League of Legends is one great example, for it provides an organized new player guide discussing terminology, game flow, custom games, and matchmaking as well as providing tutorials and battle training. Riot also communicates and enforces a detailed league and tournament structure (as illustrated in Part 3) and also articulates guidelines for Riot employees when they are at tournaments in the Riot Employee Handbook. It's not alone, either. [see General Rules for Professional DOTA 2 Competitions & Hi-Rez's Smite Rules] Clearly, eSports games satisfy this element of "sport" and have sets of rules to follow.
5. At its core, eSports involves competition among persons or teams.
Competition, by definition, is simply "a contest for some prize, honor, or advantage." There has to be more than one participant. There has to be something at the end that is commonly desired among the participants. There may be a designated winner and loser. There is no requirement of direct physical contact or human variables exclusively. Football, as a traditional sports representative in this argument, has multiple players for two teams. Each team as a unit plays a football game on opposite sides for the higher score at the end of the game, which is commonly desired among the participants as a win. There is almost always a designated winner and loser except in those rarer instances where the game ends in a tie depending on the league rules regarding regulation and overtime. Also, football happens to have direct physical contact, but that is not required to be a competition anyway.
Here, not only does eSports concern competition at its core, it does so in a way that is more akin to traditional sports game than to something else like a spelling bee competition. eSports, like football, involves head-to-head competition producing one winner (a single player or a team depending on the game) and one loser who are all competing for that coveted "W". Unlike football, there is no physical contact man-to-man, but that contact is simulated through the video game, and it is not a requirement for competition by definition anyway. A spelling bee is surely a competition despite there being no direct physical contact, similar to eSports, but at least eSports simulates that contact in the video game. Given the above, competition is what eSports is all about.
6. Despite being competitive video gaming, eSports has a human element.
Traditionalists are hesitant to incorporate too much technology too close to the heart of each sport. Despite crazy technological advances over the hundreds of years many traditional sports have existed, a lot of people acknowledge that particular areas frequently under fire like officiating could be improved, they are afraid of integrating technology and changing sports for the worse (kind of like why many judges do not like to touch sports cases for fear of being "that judge"). Relying on non-human elements can be risky, but when it is alas relied upon, it is after much testing and honing so that glitches are minimized as much as possible. Sports slowly have mixed tech-influenced elements into the games such as instant replay cameras, gear for greater comfort and movement, gear for greater protection like helmets, and sideline strategy like iPads on sidelines.
However, other non-human elements are the root of categorizing a game as a non-sport in leau of a sport. Horse-racing is a terrific example of this concept. The horse's owner hires a jockey to ride and race the horse; the athletic focus is on the horse's ability to run around a track quickly. In fact, enthusiasts believe that "the jockey only accounts for 10 percent of a horse's performance on any given day" because a jockey does not make a decent horse great, but a jockey can make a great horse a winner by learning its strengths and weaknesses and strategizing the race day attack with those factors. The jockey more closely resembles a coach for the horse rather than the "athlete." Horse-racing, where the athletic focus is on the horse's action and not the jockey's action, does not have the requisite human element to be categorized as a sport.
Here, since technology is the non-human element in eSports and the athletic focus is on the player's action and not on the video game character's action, eSports has the requisite human element to be categorized as a sport. Like football, which relies on non-human, tech-inspired elements like helmets during play, iPads and microphones to strategize among each other, and cameras to view things from different perspectives and for officials to determine calls, eSports relies on non-human, tech-inspired elements like top-of-the-line keyboards or controllers during play, microphones to strategize among each other (for team games), and screens to view things from different perspectives and for "officials" to determine calls. Unlike horse-racing, eSports players take on the active role in the game rather than a coaching role; although it takes some time to transmit signals through the technology, the player largely accounts for his own performance through his own regimen of stretching the hands and arms, training those muscles, and mastering hand-eye execution. Also, allow me to reiterate that the science is in eSports' favor regarding physical skill and exertion. One can think about it this way, too: eSports fans praise the keyboard mastery - the athletic focus - of the players that produces a result that fans can see on a screen. Football fans praise the arm of a quarterback - the athletic focus - that produces a result that fans can see on a screen (or in person, if attending). Yes, eSports is competitive video gaming, but Lord knows it would not be what it is without its critical and sufficient human element.
7. Although the US may be a little behind the rest of the world in accepting this view, eSports is a sport as it fits in society at this time.
Sports bring people together. Sports are a worldwide platform for social change. eSports is an international phenomenon that satisfies all the above elements as we interpret them today if one takes the time to open up and learn about it.
Look back at all the information you learned in the first three parts of this series. Even colleges are starting to spend money on eSports, though at the moment it is only a club nearly everywhere, but conferences are testing the waters to see if it can get the thumbs up to cater to the activity as a sport once it proves its appeal. Developers and organizers know the US is lagging. They are doing everything they can to sway the popular opinion, and I am joining them on that mission as a newer recruit.
At a minimum, it is time that we consider professional eSports a sport. Can we agree on that? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for reading!
Be sure to check out Classy Sports Law History "Ep 2: When Twitch Changed eSports + Gamer Beer" to hear more about the industry's growth courtesy of this specific online streaming provider.