The legitimacy of electronic sports (e-sports) as an actual sport is a topic that has been debated in various circles for many years. Some actually would argue that playing video games competitively has been a legitimate sporting activity since the late ’80s.
Early multiplayer gaming competitions formed during the early ’90s when Doom and Doom II became extraordinarily popular due to cutting edge graphics and being among the first major multiplayer 3D first-person shooters available on a wider PC market. Tournaments were held, and players from around the world competed in both local and remote multiplayer competitions.
By the year 2000, several major gaming leagues were founded, including the Cyberathlete Professional League and the World Cyber Games. Within a few years, almost a dozen national and international gaming competitions were up and running, many of them gaining a significant enough following to sponsor cash prizes for competitors.
Today, South Koreans can enjoy a 24-hour StarCraft II entertainment cycle. Sponsored tournaments happen virtually every day, and competitors are often met with a level of celebrity comparable to an American football or basketball player. Major gaming leagues hold regular matches that are televised nationally around the clock on South Korean’s MBC Game and Ongamenet television networks. Many of the best players make a comfortable living off of cash prizes and corporate sponsorship. Some StarCraft players wear so many company logos on their person, they appear more like NASCAR drivers than stereotypical gamers.
This business is growing. During BlizzCon 2011, the Korean Global StarCraft II League (GPL) finals took place on American soil for the first time in history. BlizzCon itself is host to one of the most prestigious StarCraft and World of Warcraft tournaments in the world, the Global Battle.net Invitational. Cash prizes in each tournament ranged from $10,000 to $50,000. While that may not sound like the millions of dollars American sports bring in, it’s only a fraction of a professional gamer’s actual salary when you take sponsors and dozens of other tournaments into account.
A professional gamer (or cyberathlete) will generally train for sometimes 10-16 hours per day. Training consists of competing in ladder (scored) matches that qualify them for invitational and larger tournaments, studying the exact math of each and every unit in their arsenal with each patch and power adjustment made by Blizzard, and simply playing against other high-caliber players to better their timing and overall skill.
Sure, they may not have to deal with broken bones or have a stunning physique, but they do have to train their hands and arms to work quickly. The average professional gamer makes about 100 actions per minute during competitive game play. This means that several actions may take place each second. Achieving this kind of physical and mental speed takes countless hours of practice and training, and not everyone can do it.
So, is playing StarCraft a sport? It certainly has many of the telltale signs of one. You can compete professionally. Getting better requires countless hours of training and practice, and not everyone has the physical capacity to do it well. If that doesn’t describe virtually any professional sport out there, I don’t know what does.
What do you think? Do StarCraft and other competitive e-gaming qualify as sports?