The match was nearing its end, and the Carleton University Ravens were in trouble. Here they were on a recent Sunday evening, down 18–17 to the Boston College Eagles with only minutes remaining. Commentators Tim (Trikslyr) Frazier and Manuel (Grubby) Schenkhuizen described Carleton’s plight. “What do the Ravens even do here?” inquired Frazier.
“It’s not a disaster,” observed Schenkhuizen.
“But then you’ve got to wonder, when are you going to start taking it back? Sometimes you may not know the road to victory. That’s the nature of competition; you may not be able to make something happen. You’ve just got to hope that the enemy will make a mistake.”
The Eagles, however, did not make a mistake and secured a 20-18 victory minutes later.
Was this a low-scoring basketball game? A high-scoring baseball game? Lacrosse?
No, this was match number one of the Super Sixteen in the 64-team Heroes of the Dorm college video gaming competition, which will culminate with the Grand Finals this Sunday in Los Angeles, which will be televised live on ESPN2. The Ravens and Eagles had been playing Heroes of the Storm, a multiplayer online battle arena video game.
It was an intense battle, sure. But there was a question lingering in the air: Is this type of competition, known as eSports, really a sport? Is it akin to baseball or football or more comparable to chess or poker? Here are some compelling arguments for both sides.
Yes: eSports Is a Sport
On a fall afternoon in 2014, 40,000 screaming fans packed into a soccer stadium in Seoul, South Korea, to witness the world championship for League of Legends, one of the world’s most popular video games. Twenty-seven million people watched the match worldwide. That’s more fans than watched Game 7 of last year’s World Series or the deciding game of the 2014 NBA Finals.
This illustrates that eSports possesses the same type of avid fan base that other major sports do. Like soccer, eSports has an enormous following around the world, particularly in South Korea, and is beginning to grow in popularity in America.
Two colleges — Robert Morris University in Chicago and the University of Pikeville in Kentucky — even offer eSports scholarships.
Furthermore, eSports leagues are operated very similarly to, say, soccer leagues. Consider the League of Legends Championship Series in the United States, whose online broadcasts attract around 300,000 viewers. The worst teams can be relegated, players can switch teams or be traded, and the best teams from each region of the world advance to a championship final against other teams from around the world. Sound familiar?
No: eSports Is Not a Sport
About a month before the 2014 League of Legends finals, ESPN President John Skipper spoke at a media conference in New York. He fielded a question about eSports by saying, “It’s not a sport — it’s a competition. Chess is a competition. Checkers is a competition. Mostly, I’m interested in doing real sports.” (Of course, ESPN is the network broadcasting the Heroes of the Dorm competition.)
It’s a fair point. According to Merriam-Webster, a sport is “a contest or game in which people do certain physical activities according to a specific set of rules and compete against each other.” ESports, a game of skill and strategy, does not require physical activity, other than clicking and moving the mouse, and therefore might be better clumped with the likes of board games and chess, as Skipper mentioned.
Moreover, if we declare eSports a sport, would Parcheesi be a sport? Debating? Is playing Madden 15 just as much a sport as playing backyard touch football?
It would seem that anything involving skill and strategy could be considered a sport. That’s something to ponder as a new wave breaks at America’s shores, bringing teenage gamers out of their basements and into the spotlight.
The Heroes of the Dorm Heroic Four semifinals will air live on ESPN3 on WatchESPN.com Sunday, April 26. The matches begin at 5:30 p.m. ET, followed by Grand Finals, which will air live on television on ESPN2 and online on ESPN3 on WatchESPN.com at 9:30 p.m. ET.
Photos: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images (crowd), Rob Stothard/Getty Images (competitors, boy)