Blog Post 3: E-Sports are “Real” Sports

A group of friends and I spent our Sunday night playing board games and talking about games, which led to an impeccably timed conversation about what a “real” sport is.

Jokingly at first, but then in a serious way, we tried to define what sports were. Football, basketball, and the usual cases fell easily into the “sport” category, whereas things like gymnastics and wrestling fell into the “Olympic activity” category (as per a friend’s definition). Talking about e-sports was unheard of. His rubric began with physical activity, but that category wasn’t exclusive enough for him – swimming didn’t seem like a sport to him, but based on that definition it would be considered as one. So he added a second means of analysis – great chance of physical harm. This made me bring up cheerleading over and over as a viable sport through those parameters, and we decided that the third qualifier was “because I say so.” So if it fit the first two and he was still unhappy, he could still just say it didn’t count.

This is a kind of silly anecdote, but it’s completely related to discussions about e-sports. T.L. Taylor points out in Raising the Stakes the many similarities between what my friend would define as “real” sports and e-sports, and how there are many physical aspects to e-sports even if we don’t realize it. Minus the bodily harm portion (though raging can get kind of intense, see my last post). League of Legends takes time, learning, and practice to become skilled, just as sports do for someone to become better at them.


(This is one of my favorite examples of skill – and luck.)

Something my friend failed to address but that I think is integral in the aspects of sports is the idea of competition. Since the first week of class, we’ve been discussing these ideas of what ‘competition’ and ‘games’ mean in relation to each other, and if something can be for ‘fun’ if it’s a competitive game. Where are the lines drawn, if there are any, and is there any way to define them? This gray area is another issue entirely, but whether or not a game is a sport or a game is something fun or not, sports involve competition (at least in my book).

This is why I am glad there was a demo on League of Legends. On a large scale, tournament type basis similar to what Taylor writes about in Raising the Stakes, League of Legends is the most competitive game I’ve played in a long time. While I also really enjoy games like the Call of Duty franchise and other similar, multiplayer online games, they’re in a completely different realm than League of Legends. As was said in the presentation, League allows people to (theoretically) join ranks with the pros if they’re skilled enough. This game is so centered on rank, score, and winning that it’s hard not to consider it a sport. This, in addition to many of Taylor’s similarities between traditional and e-sports, is why I personally think e-sports are “real.”

[Also, since it was such a big hit last time, there is an MTV True Life episode about being a professional gamer. I’m sure there are ways to find it on the internet and watch it.]

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4 Responses to Blog Post 3: E-Sports are “Real” Sports

  1. cstabile says:

    It’s almost as if the notion of “play” and “sport” have become disconnected. If it’s work it’s sport (and connected to profit). If it’s play, it’s not. And somehow, if you’re playing games to make money, that’s legit, but if you’re playing games because you love them, you’re wasting time. I think that this is part of a wider convo about productivity and leisure, but I’ll save that for another day :D.
    One final note, though — probably worthwhile to talk (as you did with your board game-playing friends) about what we mean by “athleticism.” Certainly, there’s a physical dimension to playing a musical instrument (think about how having longer fingers helps pianists or how manual dexterity is an advantage for violinists and video game players alike), but we don’t think of the physical dimensions of being a musician or playing video games in the same way we think of a runner or basketball player.

  2. coleg2013 says:

    On an interesting and somewhat related note on Prof. Stabile’s comment, my roommate’s mother holds a Ph.D. in piano and during graduate school a professor claimed that since she had fast-twitch muscle in her forearms and hands she would never be a good piano player and attempted to refuse her as a student. As it turned out she was good enough to get a Ph.D. and plays brilliantly. I suppose this is just another example of English being a silly language but she does play piano for money but it’s not sport piano. Just another example of how nothing is spelled the way it should be and we seem to have too somehow have too few words. Since I’m now desperate to tie in what I just wrote so I don’t have to delete it and come up with anything new I’ll use it as a parallel example of KJ’s friend’s ‘because I said so’ clause and the arbitrary nature in which much of the world’s decisions percolate.
    For example, wrestling was just cut as an Olympic sport. Which to me seems as ridiculous as cutting track and/or field seeing as to it is GRECCO-ROMAN wrestling, you know of the original sports of the people who made up the idea of the Olympics in the first place, but whatever. This a prime example of the nepotistic, corrupt, and biased manner in which the IOC does business, the sports the good-ol’-boys like get to stay and the sports they don’t like or are less popular are cut. Just another example of men keeping men down who like to keep men down (BOOM wrestling joke). This in turn acts as a great parallel to the Bourdieu reading when he talks about the slowness with which sports such as weight lifting were recognized due to fact that they didn’t fit the contemporary notions of ideal, refined masculinity.
    Video games, in turn, are facing much the same struggle (I for one don’t see why throwing a little ‘e’ in front of sports isn’t fine or why it needs to be called a sport at all but I’m not terribly invested in the whole idea anyways). Simply put, video games, and generally the people who play them at the highest levels do not fit the currently accepted form of masculinity. As discussed in class and by T.L. Taylor, by ‘opting out’ of sport culture and traditional expressions of masculinity society seems to think that they have voided their claim to sport. It seems, unfortunately, that the response by the e-sports community has been to create for themselves a peculiar off-brand version of sport-culture by making it hard for women to find an equal footing not only in competition but in the vocabulary and culture at large (e-sports, it tastes the same as regular sports but you wont blow out your joints!).
    According to a quick trip to the never incorrect yahoo answers, there are generally no professional co-ed sports. So maybe it’s as simple as that. Video games are not sports because they still let men and women compete with and against one another, even if it’s not all the time. Also, I re-read your friend’s list of qualifications and came to the conclusion that for him gladiatorial games would be the pinnacle of sport, they were physically strenuous, required great skill (to win or survive until retirement), and were balls-to-the wall dangerous. I don’t know if they would be manly enough to pass the “because I said so” test.
    In case you didn’t think my comment was entertaining at all, here’s a palette cleanser…
    http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=2778
    Blog response 2

    • kjjohnson52 says:

      I thought your reply was great! Also, the comic was appropriate.

      Something related to your comment (I think) is the difference between geek and ‘jock’ masculinity that Taylor talked about. It seems like ‘real’ sports and e-sports would separate the two pretty obviously, but even within the video game world there are similar divides (i.e. Counter Strike vs. Starcraft). The role of gender is an interesting idea as well; someone in class the other day made a claim that the most popular sports become popular because they exemplify masculinity. If e-sports are for the men who don’t fit that perfect physicality or athleticism piece (what Professor Stabile brought up in her comment), then it totally makes sense that they wouldn’t want women in that space of their version of masculinity. That’s something I hadn’t considered before, and one I might steal to investigate for my final blog post!

  3. Oh, so much to respond to here and so very smart! You both comment on the recourse to “tradition” (as does the terrific cartoon) as a way of supporting KJ’s friend’s more open logic (because I say so). Sport — as a part of culture — is dynamic and changeable: who’d have thought that rhythmic gymnastics would be an Olympic sport (and luge — huh?), but there they are. And alt sports are at the forefront of pushing these kinds of changes. But yet, we hang onto tradition when it comes to a sport like football, even though that “tradition” is a comparatively new one (especially when compared to various forms of wrestling — be they greco-roman or Sumo) and even though we know it’s injurious to the young men who play it. I think Burrill (and T.L.) would suggest that there’s something else being defended here — something else being struggled over in terms of both spaces and practices — I’m not sure it’s reducible to masculinity alone, but it’s certainly premised on clinging to a world view that no longer has purchase.

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