Debate: are eSports sport?


In the article Virtual(ly) Athletes Where eSports Fit Within the Definition of Sport, authors Jenny, Manning, Keiper, & Olrich (2016) utilize academic definitions to debate whether or not eSports are indeed sport.  Extracted from philosophical definitions of sport, the authors examined the following components: play, organization, competition, skill, physicality, broad following, and institutionalization.

eSports are NOT sport
by Margaret C. Keiper, Ph.D. – Northwood University

The debate of whether or not eSports should or can be considered a “sport” is very much binary and legitimate.  However, parties believing that eSports is technically not a sport often base their perspective on components of academically accepted definitions of sport.  Specifically, the two major characteristics of sport that are arguably absent in eSports are the physical use of ones body and institutionalization of the sport.

Undoubtedly, eSports competitors use their hands and high level cognitive skills to succeed in eSports but true physical and strategic use of one’s body to compete is not present within eSports matches.  The novelty of eSports also lends to a deficiency in a clear presence of institutionalization.  To have institutionalization there must be standardized rules, formal learning, expertise and official governing bodies, among other things.   With ambiguity being present in reference to physical skill and institutionalization it is fair to say eSports cannot be unmistakably and completely be defined as a sport with two major components being in question.

esports2eSports are sport
by Seth E. Jenny, Ph.D. – Winthrop University

In this short essay I will briefly defend why eSports, or organized video game competitions, should be considered a sport.  Jenny, Manning, Keiper, and Olrich (2016) note seven definitive characteristics a sport must possess in order to be considered a sport as derived from sport philosophy (Suits, 2007) and sport sociology (Guttmann, 1978).

First, play forms the foundation for all sports and there is little doubt eSport players voluntarily play video games for enjoyment.  Second, eSports are organized goal-directed activities adhering to rules. For example, see ESL One (2016) for its eSports event 30 page rulebook which covers event, player and game-specific regulations.  Next, not only do eSports include competition resulting in a winner or loser, but eSports uniquely permit global competition through online gaming.  Fourth, eSports include skillful play where chance or luck is not the sole reason for winning.  In addition to the technical dexterity utilized with individual controller or computer button inputs, skillful eSports players and teams must utilize “sporting intelligence” (Hemphill, 2005) where excellent communication skills and the ability to adapt to the opposing team’s strategies must occur in order for success (Rambusch, Jakobsson, & Pargan, 2007).

Moreover, sports must include physical skills and professional eSports players have been known to skillfully perform more than 300 keyboard or mouse actions a minute (some up to 10 per second) (Heaven, 2014b).  In addition, as motion-based video gaming (Jenny, Hushman, & Hushman, 2013) – which track players’ gross motor body movements through motion-capture software and camera devices (e.g., Xbox Kinect, Nintendo Wii, etc.) – gain popularity, these more physical video games may be utilized more into eSports.  Sixth, there is no doubt eSports is beyond a local fad and has a broad following as over 70 million people watch eSports via the internet or television globally (Wingfield, 2014) and, for example, in 2013 League of Legends (the most popular eSports video game) had over 70 million registered players, including 32 million monthly active players (Snider, 2013).

Major television networks now air eSports (e.g., TBS, ESPN, X-Games) and dedicated eSports stadiums have been or are being built around the world (e.g., United States, South Korea, China, etc.) (Heaven, 2014a).  Finally, eSports are being institutionalized by several agencies where the rules are standard and formalized with governing bodies.  This will always be a fluid process in eSports as new video games are constantly created.  On the world’s stage, the International eSports Federation has been created while in the United Kingdom, the UK eSports Association and in South Korea the Korean Esports Association (KeSPA) have been created to standardize the sport in those respective countries.  In the United States, this is being done by Major League Gaming (MLG) and ESports League (ESL).  Like it or not, eSports is a sport!

It doesn’t matter
by Douglas Manning, Ph.D. – University of Southern Mississippi

Utilizing the word ‘eSports’ to describe competitive video gaming, has had an impact on television programming (ESPN, TBS, Pac-12 Network, etc.), collegiate athletic departments/scholarships (Keiper, Manning, Jenny, Olrich, & Croft, 2016), and perceptions/views about gaming. The debate of eSports as “sport” will certainly continue in academic and non-academic settings alike, but its reach, popularity, growth, and revenue generation cannot be denied.

eSports revenue is estimated to reach $1 billion globally by 2019 (Ogus, 2016; Riddell, 2016), and continues to grow exponentially in terms of participants, viewership, and even spectators at championship events. Along with the High School Starleague and Collegiate Starleague, eSports initiatives are now thriving on university campuses (“UCI to launch,” 2016) and being established by professional athletic clubs internationally (“Valencia FC to reveal eSports team,” 2016).

While my colleagues above make valid and logical arguments, is the debate ultimately one which is rooted in semantics? Would it be inconceivable to argue that video gaming constitutes sport, while the word eSports provides a different connotation?

Semantics aside, at this point it may not matter if eSports are truly sport due to its enormous potential for revenue generation. However, it is our hope you will review the attached article, Virtual(ly) Athletes: Where eSports Fit Within the Definition of “Sport” (Jenny, Manning, Keiper, & Olrich, 2016), and decide for yourself – is it sport?


Author: NASSM Blog

The purpose of NASSM is to promote, stimulate, and encourage study, research, scholarly writing, and professional development in the area of sport management. The NASSM Blog is meant to connect practitioners and academics to the latest research, programs, and innovations in the sport industry.

2 thoughts on “Debate: are eSports sport?”

  1. Hello,
    your article is really reflecting the status of eSports as a sports domain what i liked a lot. The quality of the different arguments is impressive. Forthermore, i think that this debate has a high relevance nowadays as this scene is evolving exponentially.
    Check out our article presenting the influence of eSports on our society, focusing the affection of our general comprehension of sports (
    Bye! 🙂


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