Brock Willard editor in chief
As a form of entertainment, video games have only been around for approximately 40 years and have only in the last decade been shot into the limelight of competition on scales as grand as that of professional sports. The term Esports was coined to describe the competition aspect of video games, but many still don’t consider these “children’s games” to be as rigorous or as demanding as traditional physical sports like football or baseball. There’s a handful of reasons why that’s just not the case.
Many people associate the term Esports with games such as “Rocket League” or “League of Legends” or many of the other wildly popular games thrust into the spotlight, but the concept goes back to the 70s. The earliest known video game competition took place at Stanford University with the game “Spacewar.” Esports of today owes much of its evolution to that of in-person arcade game competitions in the 80s. Oddly enough, one of the leading companies to invest in competitions for esports was none other than Sega, the black sheep of the video game wars of the 90s. As video games and internet technology evolved, the phenomenon of esports was a natural progression from general online play. Since then, we have a whole host of global/international tournaments with sponsored players and teams, just like the physical sports teams.
Some would make the argument that players of esports are just sitting around while physical athletes are truly exerting themselves, stretching muscles and the like. However, esports athletes are absolutely stretching muscles too, just not the same ones.
Let’s take a lesser-known example: competitive Pokémon. Since the late 2000s, The Pokemon Company International has sponsored the Pokémon Video Game Championships (VGC). In preparation for VGC, people must train their Pokémon in the video game to know certain techniques and have certain stats. This sounds like literal child’s play at first glance, but this is not so. Currently, there around 500 or so Pokemon that are available for competitive play. Of those 500, they can learn anywhere from 15 to 40 moves. If you’re particularly good at math, you’re seeing the odds adding up to be astronomical possibilities of strategies that can be employed by players. In Pokemon VGC, players don’t stretch their muscles. They stretch their brain trying to calculate and plan for any given scenario. There are probably some who also wouldn’t consider chess, or poker a sport even though there is clearly a skill-based element to both of those too. You can’t just pick up a chess set at the store and hope to be good at it.
The ultimate deciding factor in deciding to treat something as sport or not comes down to skill. Did someone spend hours upon hours training themselves (or their digital avatars) to compete against others who have done the same? Could you sit down and pick up the game and hope to place at a national level competition? Of course not. You couldn’t do that anymore than if you tried stepping on to the field with Kansas City Chiefs without any prior training.
Next time you think about esports or video games in general, consider there could be more than meets the eye and maybe even sit down and try a couple games yourself. You might be surprised when you discover you’re having a grand old time.