Professional gaming is rising, but can it be considered real sport?

There’s no doubt that eSport has been rising in the United States for the last few years, and professional gaming tournaments associated with multiplayer online battle arena games, fighting games, and real time strategy games have not only grown in popularity but have also started to validate professional gaming as a career path. Tournaments such as the World Cyber Games, the Evolution Championship Series, and the Intel Extreme Masters provide both live broadcasts of the competition and cash prizes to competitors.

Take a look at the Riot Games League of Legends World Championships 2014 which just ended this October. Though no official stream viewer number has been published yet, there was approximately 3.5 million people tuning in for just the SH Royal Club vs Samsung White Worlds Final, and Riot Games released some numbers in the beginning of this year indicating there are 27 million people playing the game daily, while concurrent players peak at 7.5M. In total, 67 million players play the game every month.

According to SuperData Research, a leading provider of market intelligence on digital games, there are more than 70 million people worldwide who watch eSports over the Internet or on TVs. Although incomparable to South Korea, where professional video gaming has already been blended into mainstream culture, eSport in United States is expanding rapidly.

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(Photo: Samsung Mobile Tubes)

As the fan base and money in eSports have ballooned, controversy over whether online gaming should be recognized as a real sport has also grown. People who support video gaming as sport see the success in the gaming industry with competitions holding games in giant stadiums attracting a large audience and number of and sponsors as similar to popular sporting events. Winning prizes and considerable incomes are bringing more talented players to the professional gaming industry.

IGN published a news report last year indicating that since 2013, many of the international League of Legend players were granted visa, which means that the US government is starting to recognize competitive video gaming as a sport, allowing professional gamers all around the world to obtain a visa to the US.

At the same time, Twitch, Azubu, Douyu, and YouTube – the world’s leading video platforms – also contribute to this rising phenomenon. Because professional gamers often post their games and commentary on these sites, it gives all players a chance to learn and also to get behind-the-scenes peeks to see their favorite players.

In an interview with the New York Times, Dennis Fong, the chief executive of Raptr said, “Imagine if LeBron James and Michael Jordan, in every practice and every live N.B.A. game, had a GoPro camera strapped to their chest and they had an earbud where they can hear people ask direct questions and occasionally answer it when they’re playing. That level of access is unprecedented.”

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(Photo: Gamespot)

However, recently ESPN President John Skipper claimed that eSports are not a sport at all. And he is apparently not the only one who thinks this way. Though eSports do pretty much fit into the definition of sport as “a contest or game in which people do certain physical activities according to a specific set of rules and compete against each other” (Merriam-Webster dictionary), they are not seen or accepted by many as a real sports. Not only due to the electronic presence of video gaming, but also due to the fact that many people still have this traditional view that real sport is getting off one’s butt to do actual exercise that involves both mental and physical exertion.

In spite of this controversy, competitive video gaming, or eSports is unarguably a phenomenon that is about to change the social landscape of the US.

What do you think, should eSports be considered sports and get the same sort of treatment?