Blog Post 3 – What Makes a Sport?

When I began reading “Computer Games as a Professional Sport,” the concept itself seemed a little funny to me. Video games don’t require intense physical activity or athletic ability so they can’t be considered a sport, right? As I read on and really began to think about it, though, I realized that video games have many elements which place them into this category. The chapter did not provide a precise definition of the word “sport,” so I will use the definition provided by my Sports Marketing professor: “a source of diversion or a physical activity engaged in for pleasure.” Video games are definitely a source of diversion, and T.L. Taylor makes an excellent case for the requirement of physical abilities, such as hand-eye coordination, to excel at gaming.

I also considered the physical activity involved in other activities which are considered to be sports. Personally, I have never considered NASCAR to be a “real sport,” but millions of Americans would disagree with me. Indeed, NASCAR races are broadcast on ESPN, which seems to confirm that it is indeed a legitimate sport. I also am sure that if I asked a NASCAR driver, they would tell me about the physical skills needed to compete. b_nascar-race


ESPN also airs Poker, which requires competing against opponents on the basis of strategy and luck, and billiards, a game rooted in fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. These core aspects of these sports are found within many video games. While I have never played Counterstrike, I have a fair amount of experience with first-person shooters, from Goldeneye to Call of Duty. I have played these games long enough and with enough different people to realize that some people seem to be more naturally gifted at FPS games because they can react faster and aim more accurately. This can be partially quantified on console games by the “look sensitivity,” which is essentially analogous to the mouse sensitivity described in the reading. I have friends who are able to play with much higher sensitivities than I am because they have a faster reaction time. As a result, they seem to play the game faster than many other players, moving throughout the levels almost instinctually, and this ability translates into a much higher rate of success within the game.SniperRiot


Just because the application of these physical skills falls outside of the typical, traditional masculine ideal of “sport” does not make them any less sporting. In recent years, there has been evidence that the skills cultivated by playing video games may have other, “real-life” implications such as performing surgery ( It is not such a big leap, then, that these skills may have merit on their own, and that the presence of these skills qualifies video games as being a real sport.


About Karlin

Karlin is a graduate of the Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon, with a degree in Marketing. He wrote his thesis on marketing movies using digital media. Television, and film aficionado, lifelong Portland Trail Blazers fan, recovering comic book nerd.
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5 Responses to Blog Post 3 – What Makes a Sport?

  1. vishesh2013 says:

    Blog Post Response #2:

    Hi Karlin,

    I like your blog post a lot – I think it helps us to get at a more encompassing and perhaps a more accurate definition of “sport.” I especially like your mentioning of other activities, besides just video games, that do not fall under the traditional, masculinized definition of “sport.” Your discussion of how poker and NASCAR are still considered sports, even though they may not be as physically taxing as say, basketball, inspired me to come up with another interesting question. I hope this will spark further conversation about this topic.

    My question is this, and I think it might be a pretty complex one. Why are games like poker, sports like NASCAR, or even E-sports not as popular as some of the mainstream ones (say football, basketball, and/or baseball)? What are some of the factors that might account for the discrepancies in popularity between these different sports? For example, some might argue that part of the reason E-sports haven’t caught on as much as football is that they haven’t been around for very long! Certainly, it seems logical to argue that it takes time to achieve such wide-reaching popularity.

    Yet what about activities such as chess, which T.L. Taylor mentions in her writing? Chess has been around for a long, long time and there are vast numbers of competitive chess players in the world. Hell, it’s even an officially recognized Olympic sport (Wikipedia), not that it’s ever played in the Olympics. Could it be that because chess is not a sport in the ‘traditional’ sense of the word, which entails, as you say, a “physical activity?” Obviously, like video games or poker, chess involves very little strain on skeletal muscles. Yet, why does poker have airtime on big sporting networks such as ESPN, while chess, for example, does not?

    As we brought up in class with T.L. Taylor, perhaps it’s partially because chess is not a sport that is amenable to media breaks. Every move counts in (competitive) chess, and I would argue that to really follow a chess game, you need to be present and attentive to each turn. Yet, even with this argument, there are counterarguments. For example, soccer is the world’s most popular sport, yet it is not amenable to advertising breaks – there are two 45 minute halves of non-stop play.

    One could make any number of potentially valid arguments about why certain sports actually catch on. However, getting back to your main gist about E-sports and gaming as ‘sport,’ I think you’re right to point out that while skills utilized in video games might not be traditionally thought of as “sporting,” it doesn’t mean that video games are less of a sport. I hope that you will consider my question, and perhaps we can discuss this topic further!

    Also, a mainstream take on chess:; (is this what chess lacks? the physicality?)

  2. ibull says:

    Totally know where you’re coming from—I used to harbor prejudice against the notion of video gamers as “non-traditional” athletes. What I think really underscores the “instinctual” rejection is our notion of athleticism and hegemonic masculinity that TL talked about last night. If/when hegemonic masculinity absorbs and reconstitutes hegemonic geek masculinity, professional E-sports still have to contend with the multifaceted, multi-media revenue streams that pervade traditional sports coverage.

  3. According to K’s professor sports are “a source of diversion OR a physical activity engaged in for pleasure.” As other posters have pointed out, there’s a constant tension between “traditional” sports and “emerging” sports that seems to have much to do with competing notions of masculinity. And think of masculinity as a field — with some sports being super-masculine (football, lifting), others moderately masculine (baseball), and still others much more feminized and thus less legit. V. adds a market dimension to these calculations, which is also crucial. NASCAR and football are both multi billion dollar industries (although NASCAR’s revenue has been falling since the 2008 crash), but they have very different cultural statuses.

  4. ewiggins2013 says:

    Blog Post Response #2

    This post is in response to both Karlin’s original post and to Vishesh’s response. The idea of what defines a sport has been a topic that’s interested me for awhile. I remember in 2008, when Tiger Woods won the ESPY (ESPN’s sporting award ceremony) for best male athlete, two of my best friends got into a heated argument regarding whether golfers were really athletes. One friend, an avid golfer himself, argued that golf was a true sport because of the focus required to play well for an entire round, as well the physical mechanics required to swing powerfully and consistently. The other, a soccer player, was adamant that the designation “athlete” could not be applied to one who participates in a sport without running or jumping.

    While I withheld my opinion during their argument, I had to side with my golfer friend. Golf combines the mental toughness required in other sports with a physical motion that, frankly, is not easy. What more did it need to incorporate? Somewhat ironically in hindsight, however, I got into the same argument with my roommate last year about whether or not StarCraft counted as a sport (I said no). As Karlin pointed out in the original post, gaming requires quick reaction times and a mastery of the game’s timing that can only be built through practice, which reflects Taylor’s argument: “At the topmost level of pro gaming, embodied skill must be naturalized to the degree that it is unconscious in order for true mastery to occur” (Taylor 38-9). So it has a physical element. Beyond that, StarCraft clearly incorporates mental elements, which begs the question “How is pro gaming any different than golf, or any other sport?”

    In Vishesh’s response, he asks a very similar question: “Why are games like poker, sports like NASCAR, or even E-sports not as popular as some of the mainstream ones (say football, basketball, and/or baseball)?” I believe that the answer to this question depends on the manner in which different people are socialized. What people learn, and the way the view the world, generally depends on the institutions and the social interactions they experience. Sports like football and baseball are pervasive throughout all levels of society. Many kids can begin playing organized t-ball before they can even read, and all members of society have the ability to watch Major League Baseball on tv for almost nine full months each year. It’s also almost universally accepted as good parenting to encourage children to be active and play with others, which organized sports facilitate.

    Now consider a sport like NASCAR or poker. How does a child get involved in organized racing or organized gambling? E-sports face even more significant barriers at the moment. They aren’t broadcast on traditional media outlets, and they encourage their participants to interact socially over a network that many parents are unfamiliar with (and we should always fear the unknown, right?). However, both these barriers may be subject to change in the not too distant future, as more and more people inevitably begin to embrace Coleman’s X-reality.

    • Great and thoughtful conclusion to this thread. I think on one hand we have this understanding of sports as some unbroken (Western) tradition stretching from ancient Greece to the present. On the other hand, we have the reality of the dynamic and diverse cultures that have created sports and a history of change. E.’s right in suggesting that Coleman’s X-reality is already shifting things — think about the clips T.L. showed at her lecture of e-sport fans behaving very much like “traditional” sport fans.

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