Guest Blog #1: Are eSports Competitors Really Athletes? by SoloQueue

Here is the first of two guest blogs I will be featuring on Gamer’s Cavern! This first blog comes from Trevor DeHaan, a friend and fellow classmate of mine in my Digital Communications class who runs his own site called Solo Queue. In this blog you can expect to find an extremely informative outlook on whether or not E-sports competitors should be considered athletes or not. If you’re interested in amazing blog posts like this then please check out Trevor’s site Solo Queue! He posts about a variety of game related content such as reviews as well as prevalent issues within the gaming community. 

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eSports have grown as an industry more in the past few years than almost any other sport over that past 50. Not only is the idea of an industry centered around the commodification of eSports as entertainment extremely recent in its birth, but also incredibly successful despite it being so young.

As of May 2015, the cumulative market value of eSports was $747.5 million, with analytical professionals like Newzoo predicting total value to reach $1.9 billion by 2018.

While those are great numbers, it is the annual growth that marks eSports as such a rapidly emerging industry. In Newzoo’s report on Global eSports Markets (a report that can be accessed for only $4,900 US!), they outline the year-over-year growth of the market, and how it compares to other traditional sports markets. The chart below on the left shows the projected growth of consumers for both eSports, and the two most popular American sports: Football and Hockey. So, in terms of entertainment consumption, it can be seen quite easily that eSports are just as relevant as other sporting markets. But what about the money?

We all know that there is a lot of money in sports, and I already outlined the total market value of the medium. But, what about the growth? Because the industry is so young, it is unfair to judge it’s fiscal impact on total value alone. The report recognizes that and the chart on the right, we see their visual representation of this growth; projected using the existing revenue-per-consumer information.

     Graph 2

So, a growth of $194 million to $465 million over two years would show that the industry is indeed booming. That is a whopping 135% increase, putting it well in line and in most cases, over said line in comparison to other sports markets at the time of their emergence.

So, the numbers all point to eSports being just as relevant as a consumer sports market as anything else. But what about the intrinsic matters? Money only means so much if we can’t back it up with meaning, and that seems to be where most of the skepticism lies.

Many people (if not most) have a hard time labeling the competitors in eSports as actual “athletes”. Despite the American Government formally recognizing them as such in 2013, people cannot come to terms with the idea of a dorito-crusted man child in their mother’s basement being considered an athlete.

So how does all of this fit into eSports gamers being called athletes?

Well, as alluded to above, the government seems to have no problem fitting the gamers into their definition, as their 2013 ruling allows for sanctioned visas to be given to foreign players. The players themselves have begun forcing the hands of industry leaders by forming actual athletes unions, which I have previously discussed here. Even the massive companies and corporations in the world have begun dipping their hands into the capitalist pool of the market, offering multi-million dollar sponsorships to competing teams across several countries and leagues, with some notable examples being Coca-Cola, HTC, and Nissan Canada.

The players themselves also seem to behave extremely similarly to professional athletes from other sports. Teams have aggressive practicing hours mandatory to their players, with many League of Legends players spending over 12 hours a day sharpening their craft. Many teams have begun hiring coaches who oversee these training sessions, and shape the team’s strategies in order to better their performance. Most teams even have managers and PR workers to oversee the deals and communications aspects respectively. Hilariously, performance-enhancing drugs like Adderal have even made their way into the legalities of the industry, which is bound to cause controversy when players are competing for millions of dollars at national tournaments.

Team Liquid accepts the trophy in addition to $2.8 million at the Dota 2 International 2015

Team Liquid accepts the trophy in addition to $2.8 million at the Dota 2 International 2015

So amid all of this, there is one piece of evidence against eSports players that will never be dismissed, and that is the lack of physical exertion. While reflexes, muscle memory, and hand-eye coordination are all paramount to a competitor’s performance, many people do not classify these skills as being physical enough for the title of a professional athlete. Running, jumping, throwing, and catching have all become synonymous with traditional sport, and because the eSports player does not usually involve any of these in their craft, it can be hard to consider their work as athletic. While that earlier mentioned guy in the basement probably doesn’t have the determination to make it to a professional league, his 7 hour World of Warcraft session is commonly viewed as no less a sport than the $2.8 million Dota 2 2015 International Championship match.

And for now, that seems to be the beginning and end of the issue; a stigma around what being a professional gamer really means. The money, policies, and practices of traditional sports are all present, yet the majority of Westernized culture still does not recognize eSports as a true “sport”, nor its participants as “athletes”. Time will tell if the rapid growth of the market will change these views in the future, but for now the consumers should act no differently despite what the public take may be, at least in my opinion.

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