By Jordan Garcia

With esports leagues like The Overwatch League attempting to emulate traditional sports leagues to the highest extent, the question continues to rise: To what extent should critics be comparing esports to traditional sports?

The argument can be made that the physical aspect of sports are what make the medium so unique, to the point where something like esports has no stake in the case. But many others believe that sports are much more than just physicality.

When speaking to former University of Alberta Golden Bear, Eric Mahe, on the matter of esports vs. sport, he states, “If you look at the idea of competition, you are putting in the hours to hone your skills and find exploits in your opponents. You are creating an identity to win games which in that sense can be compared to sports.”

A previous offensive lineman for the Bears during the 2015-2016 seasons, Mahe believes that esports has its place amongst the realm of sport.

“Just like how you wouldn’t compare how one sport is more of a sport than another sport, I don’t think we should be comparing esports to sports, one-to-one. At the end of the day, it’s all about that competitive nature for both parties.”

Included in this argument is a five-year veteran for the Edmonton Wildcats of the Canadian Junior Football League, Bray Josue. “Every athlete has dedicated their time to their specific sport, if you put a football player on skates, they won’t perform,” the former running back explains.

The idea then is whether the argument of an athlete is really key in this situation. According to both Mahe and Josue, an athlete is a naturally gifted individual who by all means are able to jump into any athletic situation and thrive. But with “athletes” in professional sports, many are one-dimensional and excel only within their league. Therefore, the argument can be made that esports players can be seen in the same light as players in the NHL, NBA, etc. that focus their energy on a single skillset.

“From what I see on social media, professional esports teams should be considered sports teams because they consist of big-time players who make big-time plays, if you put regular gamers in those situations, they’ll crumble under the pressure,” Josue explains.

Just like traditional sports, video game developers have allowed players to partake in the competition of their favourite esport with the use of in-game clients. Just as anyone can play a pick-up game of basketball for example.

With that being said, there are firm believers in the physical sense of sports that believe esports does not have a place in the same vein.

Ryan Kurikilodil, an assistant strength and conditioning coach at the University of Alberta, believes that even the idea of adding an ‘e’ to the word sport disowns esports from being sports.

“Absolutely not,” Kurikilodil says in response to whether esports players are athletes.

“There’s a very specific idea of sport: sports involve physical exertion. When you add the ‘e’ to it, it may show that you’re just trying to emulate sport, not be a sport.”

From Kurikilodil’s side, this makes sense. The traditional understanding of sports, from the times of ancient Greece, has involved the idea of physical specimens competing to see who has the willpower to defeat the other. In a digital sense, this can also be seen, but inherently the reason why esports hasn’t been immediately accepted in the sports circle is that of this fact: physicality.

In a recent Olympic forum, both Olympic athletes and esports professionals gathered to speak about esports players being considered athletes. During the panel, professional Starcraft II player “TLO” stated: “Just like Olympians do, it’s just about trying to excel at a skill in a competitive environment.” With that, Olympic athlete and Croatian Alpine skier Ana Jelušić Black responded with “Speaking from a traditional athlete perspective, it was interesting for me to realize just how many similarities we had with gamers. In the end, it’s dedicating your time and effort to the pursuit of excellence. Whether you’re doing that in front of a screen or on the field of play, we are all wanting to be our best.”

Perhaps then, the entire struggle between sports and esports is irrelevant. The differences between the two force many to believe the two cannot co-exist without one toppling the other, but at the same time, sports and esports have been able to work alongside each other within different streams since the conception of competitive video games. In fact, the idea of esports being in competition with sports has only being brought into the discussion recently because of the sheer numbers esports has been able to rake in in contrast to traditional sports.

So then, possibly, esports should continue to be given the chance to make a name for itself in its own limelight. Both working alongside the evolution of sports and competing against the numbers sports attracts.

Competition is still, in fact, both the fuel of modern capitalism and the drive in everyday sports.

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