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eSports breeding new crop of ‘athletes’ in US

Ryan Woerner
Sports Editor

If you’ve ever been to a middle school debate class or the South, you’ve likely run into a classic “sport or not a sport” debate. The most prominent subjects of these debates are auto-racing, golf, cheerleading and, more recently, video games.

Yes, video games.

The nerds. The non-athletes. The ones who were beat up by the jocks in high school for not playing a sport. Now they’re taking over. Oh, how the tables have turned. Now, the kid who formerly ate alone— the one who’s unusually good at Super Smash Brothers or League of Legends—sits with his team. His eSports team.

International Education Week

Yes, eSports.

Like “email” or “ebook,” the “e” in eSports is short for, of course, “electronic.” Don’t confuse eSports with games like Madden or FIFA, which are sports video games. No, eSports are competitions in which the “athletes” compete against one another in games such as League of Legends or Call of Duty.

While the above paragraph regarding the rise of the “nerds” may have been a slight exaggeration, the rise of eSports in pop culture today has unleashed an ever-growing debate: Are eSports sports?
On the surface, the answer may seem to be an obvious “no.” Dig deeper however, unearth more facts, numbers and statistics and get opinions from other “athletes” and the answer is still a resounding “no.”

One primary backer of eSports as sports is Major League Gaming (often referred to as MLG). MLG has existed since 2003, founded by Michael Sepso and Sundance DiGiovanni, who were able to form a professional gaming league.

Yes, professional.

During the 2012 Spring Championships in Anaheim, over $200,000 prize money was up for grabs for those who entered the competition. The ability to earn money playing video games should not come as a huge surprise to many. People make money stringing tennis rackets, dressing up like clowns and having sex with people on camera. You can be a “professional” just about anything now, however, that doesn’t make it a sport.

12,000 fans flocked to the Staples Center to watch the League of Legends Finals.
12,000 fans flocked to the Staples Center to watch the League of Legends Finals.

In fact, I’d more easily conceed that Ron Jeremy is an athlete than most Major League Gamers.

My personal opinion when asked about this subject is something along the lines of “haha, wait seriously?” In my eyes there is no way that video games can be considered “sports,” nor the people that play them “athletes.”

Think of an athlete; names like Lebron James, Mike Trout, Calvin Johnson and LeSean McCoy likely come to mind. They possess inhuman strength, agility and in-depth knowledge of the sport, the skills and the strategy behind winning. Some of them probably could run a mile in less time than a lot of the eSports “athletes” could run the 40 yard dash.

Unfortunately for me, my opinion is not all that matters in this vast, vast world. I had to turn the question over to some others.

To gain a slightly wider perspective, I asked nine people this same question. These nine people’s sports experiences ranged from “never played a sport” to “former Major League Baseball player.” Each and every one said confidently that no, eSports are not sports.

Among the college athletes past and present that I asked, all answered in very similar vein.

“I can confidently say that sitting on your [behind] holding a controller and guiding some digital character to do your bidding is 100 percent not a sport,” said Brendan Bellomo, former sprinter and javelin thrower at Ursinus College. “An athlete is one [who] uses his or her body in methods of training to acclimate it for exercise, sports or to withstand extreme conditions of physical strain.”

“When I think of a sport I feel that they are physical competitions between a person and their opponent, and not through a video game using controllers,” said Ian MacMillan, 2010 second-team All-Suburban One Conference honoree at Abington High School and former placekicker for Division I Temple University.

Former New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants and Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Fred Lewis echoed MacMillan’s statements, saying simply, “There is no real movement going on for it to considered a sport.”

As defined by the Oxford English dictionary and reiterated by Millersville baseball coach Jon Shehan, a sport is defined as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.”

“ESports may be competitive, entertaining and even require skill, but they are are missing ‘physical exertion,’” said Shehan. “Sports require activity further than thumb use.”

“I would put them in the same category of those who do competitions like chess tournaments,” said Millersville senior and rabid New England sports fan Alicia Henry.
While many classically defined “athletes” have had their chance to voice their opinion, it is only fair to get opinions from the other side.

For this, I turned to the biggest computer game lover I know: my brother Stephen.

“I personally don’t believe they are sports,” said the self-proclaimed nerd and web design major at Montgomery County Community College. “Sports and eSports are two separate things. Both are a competition, but one is physical and the other virtual. Same idea, different execution.”

In stark contrast, polls conducted on both Reddit.com and BleacherReport.com returned results overwhelmingly in favor of considering eSports “real sports,” with 74 and 90 percent voting “yes,” respectively.

While eSports can absolutely be defined as entertainment—the League of Legends Finals tournament sold out the 15,000 capacity Staples Center in under an hour—they don’t fit the eyes of a sport in the classic sense of the word.

I’m all for the changing of “classic” or “traditional” definition of words—the idea of “traditional” marriage being the only form is laughable and absurd. However, the day that the criteria for being called an “athlete” is expanded to those who sit on the couch holding a Cheetos-dust covered Xbox controller is the day I go pro in Netflix and naps.