Are esports actual sports, and can we consider them as such?
The question pops up regularly, and the least we can say is that opinions differ! Regardless of this debate, both disciplines could learn a lot from each other.
Their respective benefits
Sports can contribute a superior degree of professionalism to esports. In terms of infrastructure, training, nutritional guidance and mental preparation, sports can offer much to a discipline which is still young and in full development. Implementing processes to facilitate decision-making, and other sports-specific processes could serve as a most interesting inspiration for esports, as Guillaume Chevalier, an expert and a fan, points out. He adds that in return, this new form of entertainment could teach sports about the digital aspect, the use of the new Internet players, such as influencers, and storytelling.
Both disciplines are undeniably linked. Esports increasingly show up in traditional sport structures. New competitions are organised based on existing sports competitions, like the Proximus eSports League, the esports equivalent of the Jupiler Pro League football in Belgium. But there are others: the FIFA eWorld cup at the international level, the NBA 2K League in basketball and the F1 Esports Series. These new competitions offer opportunities for brands wishing to invest in esports, while remaining in a more familiar, and therefore more reassuring context.
Esports, a future Olympic discipline?
Of course, one cannot discuss the link between sports and esports without mentioning the Olympic Games. The question of integrating the discipline in the Olympic Games has been around for a few years. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) discussed the issue in December 2018, and while the response is negative for now, the door is not entirely closed. The IOC declared any discussion about the integration of esports into the Olympic programme premature, as some electronic sports are incompatible with the Olympic values. But there is hope, as esports will be an entirely separate discipline in the South-East Asian Games in 2019, which are supervised by the IOC. Perhaps it is a stretch to see these games as a test for a possible future integration of the discipline into the Olympic programme, but it is not entirely unthinkable…
Not only is the debate interesting, it is also divisive. To some, there should not even be a debate. As the games are owned by editors, rather than federations like in traditional sports, the integration of esports into the Olympic Games is problematic, as Philippe Rodier, former player and coach of the Vitality team, points out. He concurs with Guillaume Chevalier, who insists that an editor wants to sell his game, which could easily cause conflicts of interest. By choosing a particular game as an Olympic discipline, the IOC would clearly favour one editor, with all the commercial ramifications one can imagine. Many people feel that esports can develop without the Olympics, and vice-versa.
Regardless of whether one considers esports as real sports, or whether one favours the integration of esports into the Olympics, the debate continues to fuel lively discussions among experts and fans. As an external observer, one can only marvel at the myriad possibilities this young discipline has to offer, in full expansion in the media.