Can Some Computer Games Be a Sport?: Issues with Legitimization of eSport as a Sporting Activity

Can Some Computer Games Be a Sport?: Issues with Legitimization of eSport as a Sporting Activity

Dominika Skubida (Independent, Warsaw, Poland)
DOI: 10.4018/IJGCMS.2016100103
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This paper focuses on the problem of social legitimization of eSport in the context of traditional sports. Its objective is to investigate knowledge and attitudes towards eSports, as well as their recognition as legitimate sports. The first part of the paper consists of the definition and differentiation between eSport and eSports. The second part provides an analysis of various definitions of sport and comparison of main qualities of eSport and sport. The third part includes identification of the most problematic features of eSports in public opinion and their analysis.
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Sport is a universal language. At its best it can bring people together, no matter what their origin, background, religious beliefs or economic status. And when young people participate in sports or have access to physical education, they can experience real exhilaration even as they learn the ideals of teamwork and tolerance. (Kofi Annan, UN press release SG/SM/9579, 2004)

As a fairly new phenomenon, especially in Europe and Americas, eSport is not a profoundly researched subject. There are few academic works addressing eSport as a whole (Taylor, 2012; Wagner, 2006), its spectatorship (Cheung & Huang, 2011; Ditmarsch, 2013) or eSport in relation to sport (Ferrari, 2013; Witkowski, 2012) and business (Sjöblom, 2011), but there are still many unexplored areas within the subject, one of them being the social perception of electronic sports. The scene is growing in popularity every year (according to the 2016 Global eSports Market Report, the eSports audience in 2015 exceeded 226 million viewers worldwide and is estimated to reach 345 million viewers by year 20191), attracting spectators, sponsors and media, exposing the niche gaming and eSports community to the world, and causing controversies. As a product of fusion between sport, media, gaming and technology (Hutchins, 2008), the idea of electronic sports is a new and unfamiliar one, and is not necessarily perceived seriously or positively within the society, especially considering gaming’s struggles with acceptance as a “normal” leisure activity (Crawford, 2005; Taylor, 2012).

This paper aims to provide an in-depth analysis of the issues that arise from the comparison of eSport to traditional sport. This analysis is achieved through three discussions: firstly, the definition and separation of the terms eSport and eSports. Secondly, the interpretation of multiple definitions of sport, with the aim of isolating a list of its important characteristics in order to facilitate the comparison in mind. Lastly, the observation of social perception of eSport in order to identify a number of problematic features that seem to adversely affect the regard of eSport as a sporting activity.


Defining Esport

When talking about a phenomenon so recent and relatively unknown as electronic sport, it is important to specify what exactly it is, especially considering ambiguity of the term for people unfamiliar with it. The origin of the term eSports is not clear — according to Michael G. Wagner, one of the earliest reliable sources using the term is a press release from 1999, commenting on the launch of the Online Gamers Association (OGA), where Mat Bettington compared eSports to traditional sports2 (Wagner, 2006, p. 1). In fact, the most basic, general definition of eSports — electronic sports, is competitive computer gaming (Borowy & Jin, 2013; Hutchins, 2008; Wagner, 2006).

Attempts at defining the term are infrequent, one of the first interpretations being that of Michael G. Wagner (2006) in his monograph On the scientific relevance of eSports: “eSports is an area of sport activities in which people develop and train mental or physical abilities in the use of information and communication technologies” (p. 3), in which he adapted and rewrote a definition of sport provided by sport scientist Claus Tiedemann. 3

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