Do eSports Count as a Sport? (Yes, They Do!)

In our last two blogs, we introduced you about the world of eSports and gave you a bit of information about the viability of a career as a professional gamer. In this blog, we want to ask a more vexed and fundamental question: do eSports count as sports? The answer isn’t as straightforward as you might expect, and this is due to the numerous similarities between traditional sports and competitive gaming. 

What Should We Count as a Sport?

Which activities belong in the “sport” category? Classifying anything definitively is notoriously challenging and often creates what we might call a “Goldilocks Problem.” Think about it this way: if you try to classify something too stringently, you’re probably going to exclude elements that belong in the classification; however, you risk including too much in your classification if your parameters are too relaxed. Finding that perfect middle-ground can be incredibly difficult! 

Let’s start with the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) requirements for an activity to count as a sport. The NCAA says, “For purposes of reviewing proposals, a sport shall be defined as an institutional activity involving physical exertion with the purpose of competition versus other teams or individuals within a collegiate competition structure. Furthermore, a sport includes regularly scheduled team and/or individual, head-to-head competition (at least five) within the competitive season(s); and standardized rules with rating/scoring systems ratified by official regulatory agencies and governing bodies.” 

eSports meet most of the criteria proposed by the NCAA. There are regularly scheduled competitions between teams and individuals, and there are stringent, standardized rules in every game played at the professional level. Players will regularly spend hours strategizing and analyzing their performance in past games, as well as analyzing their opponents’ tactics and weaknesses. Professional gaming teams hold regular practices to keep their players’ skills up. Moreover, as we discussed in our last post, nearly every competitive game on today’s market is designed with an internal ranking and scoring system that allows players to view statistics about themselves and their competitors. 

The real question, at least as far as the NCAA’s criteria for a sport are concerned, is whether eSports involve enough physical exertion to count as a sport. Your initial answer is probably a resounding “no.” How on earth could playing video games involve any kind of physical exertion? It might be surprising, but competitive gaming has been shown to substantially increase players’ blood pressure, oxygen intake, and heart rates. The intense competition involved in a high-stakes tournament can release just as much adrenaline in a gamer as the final few minutes of a close football game can in a quarterback. If that’s not enough to change your mind, think about the incredible amount of mental engagement and strategic thinking involved in competitive gaming. Coordinating with your teammates and staying one step ahead of your competitors requires a tremendous amount of mental fortitude! Many professional gamers find themselves exhausted both physically and mentally after intense tournaments come to an end. 


So, do eSports count as a sport? The answer is clearly “yes.” There are just too many similarities between traditional sports and eSports to justify an answer in the negative. Virtual reality games are developing at an incredible rate, and the competitive gaming industry could very well have fully-immersive competitions in 10 years. Whether eSports players should be considered athletes is far more contentious, and we’ll save that as a topic for another day!

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