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Are Esports Players Athletes?: 11 Reasons For & 11 Reasons Against

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

Esports is emerging as a fully-fledged sporting type, complete with multi-million-dollar sponsorships and massive Esports arenas. However, most sportspeople look down on Esports and claim it’s “not a real sport” and say players are “not athletes.” So, are Esports players athletes? Let’s look at a few of the arguments from both sides.

The main argument against defining Esports players as athletes is that Esports players exhibit limited physical skills to play games at the highest level. However, the main argument for Esports players as athletes is the transferable skills between them and traditional athletes. 

Athleticism is defined as “the quality of being physically fit, strong, and active.” By this strict Oxford definition, Esports players are not necessarily athletes, though they can be. But other uses of the word describe anyone participating in a sport with strict training, including Esports.

The question poses a grey area complicated to traverse, and it’s difficult to give a direct “yes” or “no” answer. Let’s evaluate both sides of the argument.

Eleven Reasons Why Esports Players Are Athletes 

1. The Definition Of “Athlete” Includes Esports Players

The Oxford Dictionary, “sport” refers to “a person who competes in sports.” This term would include Esports players and classify them as athletes since Esports are recognized as valid sports in most countries worldwide, as we will see later. 

2. Esports Players Are Recognized As Athletes In the United States

Given the popularity of Esports in the US and the hosting of many international tournaments, it became a must for foreign Esports participants to have visas to compete in the country. As a result, in 2013, the American government officially recognized Esports players as athletes.

3. Esports Has A Traditional Sports Model  

The business of Esports follows a traditional sports model with dedicated teams, coaches, transfers, training regimes, stadiums, broadcasting, and team/brand loyalty from the fans.

4. Esports Have Transferable Skills With Traditional Sport

Esports athletes exhibit many of the same skill sets as athletes from traditional sports; these include but are not limited to:

  • Advanced spatial awareness, 
  • Communication, 
  • Problem-solving, 
  • Quick reflexes, 
  • Advanced hand-eye coordination.

5. Strict Practice Regimens

Esports players have strict practice regimens just like any other sports. Even though the practice involves sitting comfortably, you have to meet strict requirements and cannot simply play any game you want; discipline is still involved as for any other athlete. Whether you feel like it or not, you must get your practice hours in.

6. Athletes Have Strong Mental Focus And Drive

Any athlete requires a strong drive to succeed and excel, combined with a singular mental focus. In many ways, Esports can exercise this aspect more than most traditional sports. The stakes may not be exactly as high, but while you’re in the game, it’s all the same. Mentally, your life truly is at stake, and you must succeed to survive. Some argue that this qualifies Esports players as athletes.

7. Esports Are As Competitive As Other Sports

The level of competition is often quoted as a reason why Esports players should not be athletes. In fact, the opposite is true: Esports are just as competitive as traditional sports these days, and intense competition requires a person with remarkable skill and resourcefulness, just like conventional athletes. Unlike gaming, Esports isn’t just for recreation; it could be a career.

8. Esports Require Skill, Just Like Traditional Sport

The word “skill” is intrinsically linked with every definition of sport. In this sense, Esport is definitely a sport, making those who play it, athletes. Esports require players with exceptional skills, which is one of the differentiating factors between a gamer and an Esports player. These skills are practiced and fine-tuned the more you play, and athletes train to improve in Esports and traditional sports.

9. Esports Can Be Played Solo Or In Teams

Athletes compete in sports that can be played as solo matches or in teams. By this standard, Esports players are also athletes since some Esports games and matches are played in teams, while there are also solo games (though this is less common). Teams assign roles based on each player’s unique strengths and weaknesses, just like other sports, classifying Esports players as athletes.

10. All Sports Are Just Games

Where do you draw the determining line between who is an athlete and who isn’t? Even some traditional sports don’t involve players who match the definition of athleticism. A few examples include bowling, golf, darts, archery, etc. Though they may involve some parts of the definition, they don’t have all of them. If these players can be called athletes, then so can Esports players.

11. Countries Recognize Esports Players As Athletes

Like traditional sports, Esport involves a lot of travel to participate in international matches. Interestingly enough, most countries award Esports players athlete visas. So even based on most countries’ legislation, at least their immigration and travel laws, Esports players are legally classified as athletes.

Eleven Reasons Why Esports Players Are Not Athletes 

1. Esport Does Not Involve Being Physically Fit

By the Oxford definition of athleticism, “the quality of being physically fit, strong, and active,” Esports is not a form of athleticism. Traditional athletes are known for their physical prowess regardless of if they are playing sport or not (such as a footballer maintaining their running fitness at all times.)

Esport does not require physical fitness by any stretch, and a player can be one of the best in a particular game while still being an overweight couch potato.

2. Esports Are Similar To Traditional Games  

Esports would be seen to share more in common with other competitive games such as chess and thus should fall under the banner of a competitive game rather than a sport. 

Consequently, Esports players cannot be considered athletes, in the same way, a chess player is not an athlete.

3. Esports Are Exclusively Virtual 

Unlike sports that require athletes to engage in real-world activities, Esports players dictate commands to in-game avatars that perform their actions in a virtual space, absent of the Esport player. 

Therefore, the actions of the in-game avatar and the Esports player are too far removed to consider them the player’s actions, as one would typically associate with athletes in traditional sports.

4. Esport Requires No Strength

Returning to the Oxford definition of athleticism, the next word to describe an athlete is “strong.” Esports don’t require any level of physical strength. You may be lifting a heavy rocket launcher in a game and handling it with almost no recoil, but physically, you are only holding a mouse or game controller and a can of energy drink.

5. Esports Don’t Require Physical Activity

The third (and last) part of the Oxford definition states that athleticism requires you to be active. Very little physical activity is involved in Esports, except for fast hand and finger movements. Some players may argue that carrying a gaming PC around is physical exercise, but that does not truly count within the realm of athleticism.

6. Every Competitive Game Is Not A Sport

People argue that if Esports is seen as an actual sport, and the players are seen as athletes, the same should apply to any competitive activity. This would then also qualify competitive players of board or card games as athletes. The boundaries of what is or isn’t a sport would be blurred. 

This creates an intense debate since a game like chess cannot be counted as a sport by this standard. However, it is recognized as an international sport by most schools and colleges. Yet chess players can’t be referred to as athletes by the strict definition of athleticism.

7. Esports Don’t Require Enough Skill

There is an argument that Esports don’t require the same skill level as other sports. For example, there are no physical sports where a seven-year-old can compete against and possibly beat a mature professional player. However, with Esports, this is a realistic possibility. Many children already have the skills they need to compete and win at such a young age. 

Some argue that this in itself proves that Esports players cannot be regarded as athletes, purely because any other sport requires more practice to get the necessary level of athleticism to compete in professional tournaments.

8. Esport Isn’t A Real Sport

Athletes participate in sports; that part is clear. The Oxford Dictionary defines sport as an activity requiring physical effort and skill. Though Esport requires skill, physical effort is not an intrinsic part of it. This fact will disqualify Esports players from being athletes if Esport is the only sport they are participating in.

9. Esports Require Minimal Discipline

A common argument is that there’s no real discipline required to compete in Esports, and being disciplined is a crucial part of being an athlete. Those who hold to this argument state that it requires discipline to get up in the cold and run ten miles instead of getting up in the cold and playing video games on a couch under a blanket, which they claim requires no discipline.

10. Esports Don’t Need To Be A Sport To Be Respected 

Esports and its players are recognized globally as dedicated players with phenomenal skill sets. These skills are not innate but rather a result of dedicated practice, coaching, and strategy sessions. 

Therefore, because Esports players can garner respect akin to top players in other games such as chess, many feel that Esports athletes no longer need the hard definition of “athlete” to be respected and admired.

11. Esports Should Have E-Athletes

Some say that the very fact that there is an “e” in front of Esports places it in a different category altogether, differentiating it from traditional sports. Similarly, Esports players should be referred to as “e-athletes” or “ethletes” since they fall under a different category with a unique set of requirements and expectations.

All Things Considered

The debate continues. Ironically, even most Esports players cringe when they are called athletes. Despite generally trying to stay fit and healthy, they don’t often participate in other competitive sports, disqualifying them from being called athletes, in their opinion. It’s up to each person to decide for themselves. After all, Esport is still young, and we are still figuring things out.

While it is unlikely that the definition of Esports players will be settled, there are compelling arguments both for and against labeling them as such.

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who enjoy sharing their knowledge about their favorite games with others!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco serves as a New York-based editor for Gamesver. His interest for board games centers around chess, a pursuit he began in elementary school at the age of 9. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Mercyhurst University, JC brings a blend of business acumen and creative insight to his role. Beyond his editorial endeavors, he is a certified USPTA professional, imparting his knowledge in tennis to enthusiasts across the New York City Metropolitan area.