Wait, When Did Playing Video Games Become a Sport?

If you ever doubted the role that video games play in the life of the youth, gamers all now have the opportunity to laugh at you. It appears that video game tournaments are becoming quite popular on college campuses, with some of these tournaments pulling in around 90,000 people online to watch.

E-sports is a new phenomenon in the world of college athletics and is growing rapidly at universities in the U.S., with more than 10,000 players in some of these competitions. Winning these tournaments can sometimes even provide the winner with scholarship money for tuition.

According to a New York Times article, game developers, administrators, and some faculty are starting to see the craze for what it is: a sport similar to basketball or football. Just as basketball was disorganized in its infancy stages and has since become a billion dollar industry, this video game tournament craze could possibly develop in much the same way. It might seem as though this growth isn’t really that big at all, but consider this from the Times article: “Riot recently announced that first-place winnings at the new championship, to be held in the spring, would rise to $30,000, enough to pay for about three years of in-state tuition at the University of Washington.” But, unfortunately for gamers, the sport has not grown enough to be able to make living off of yet, at least not for more than a few stars of the game world.

These developments have led to an interesting question: What constitutes a sport? Before you become “that guy” who says that sports can be whatever you want, please understand the limits of that statement. If I do something for sport, there definitely has to be competition and players playing to win. We can’t classify both basketball and an everyday activity such as, say, putting on a belt, as sports. I don’t put hairspray on my hair for sport, I do it because if I don’t my hair just ain’t gonna look right. The gamers clearly have competition, which meets the first qualification. So far, so good.

I’d say that economics need to be a part of the equation as well. What are players playing for? What separates these tournaments from the Madden tournaments that I used to play with my friends until 3 a.m. (and that I never won)? Money. Economics plays a huge role in this, especially since these kids can win prize money that is comparable to tuition for two or three years. Once developers and colleges and some sort of “association” begin to recognize and see opportunity at these competitions, the marketing for these events could blow up.

But here is my main issue with gaming being a sport. The most important part of the definition of a sport is that it is “an activity involving physical exertion.” There is something to be said about doing something in a sport, right? Something more than just grabbing the chip bag that is near you and downing a few before you lose your life in the game. Gamers aren’t physically doing anything except damaging their eyes. And lives. And souls. Just kidding. Kind of.

Most professional players of video game tournaments, such as “League of Legends,” begin playing when they are 17 years old and phase out by their mid-20s. An online forum cites biomedical research showing that reflex and motor skills begin to decline at the age of 23. So you really have about a five- or six-year window in order to get really good, make your money, and retire off into the sunset or to your next job as a GameStop employee.

Still, I suppose playing video games can be a sport, even though I cringe at that thought. How much of this is extended adolescence? How much of this is an attempt to continue avoiding the responsibilities inherent to adult life? These are questions that have to be asked. And before you gamers get on my case, I’d ask them of every other sport as well.


Chris CruzChristopher Cruz (@_chris_cruz) is a staff writer for Little Utopia.

Previously from Christopher Cruz:
“Interstellar” is Truly Out of this World
The Return of Dwyane Wade
Jimmy Kimmel Really Makes Fun of Us All
How Not To Get Kicked Out Of Your Fantasy League
In Order to Return to Dan Gilbert and the Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James Must Forgive