The logo for StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty

“The rise of the professional cyber athlete” reads the tagline of Ben McGrath’s article. The topic is StartCraft, a virtual game that has one of the largest followings in the world. The game is dominated by South Korean’s, but has recently been expanding to other parts of the world, including North America. The most talented players gather to compete in tournaments featuring large cash prizes and many opportunities to gain sponsorships. There is a common question that arises, and the topic has been debated for a long time: What is a sport? (And are eSports actually sports?)

To me, sports are a physical involvement. Athletes sacrifice their bodies for the greater good of a team in most cases, but even in instances of individual sports, physicality is still a major factor. Football, baseball, hockey, basketball, tennis. Sports. Computer games? Not so much.

A common setup for a high level StarCraft Tournament. Thousands attend to watch the match live.

While my opinion certainly isin’t the only one, I would suspect the majority of people would be in agreement with me.

I can however think of someone who would disagree. Johan Huizinga’s depiction of the Magic Circle would include “eSports” based on his general rules of play. According to Huizinga, play must be:

o Free (Voluntary)
o Uncertain (Unpredictable outcomes)
o Unproductive/autotelic (intrinsically valuable)
o Governed by rules
o Make-believe (Outside of reality)

Technically, it works. eSports would fit all of the categories Huizinga promotes. But for some reason it just doesn’t seem right. As a class, we then went further into the discussion which led to us adding to the definition:

Sports are seen as a physical activity, which is the main difference between eSports and the sports we commonly know of

o Play can be for money — players can make a salary

o Play can be apart of real life; does not have to be imaginary

Even still, eSports would fit in the definition. So what makes eSports not sports? Athleticism. What I am proposing is Johan Huizinga’s definition of play is correct, and yes, eSports fall under his definition, but “play” does not necessarily make it a sport. Huizinga does not require anything athletic to be play, so simply put, Huizinga isin’t talking about sports.

That still doesn’t answer the question of “what is a sport?”

According to TopEndSports, it is “An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others.” While eSports like StarCraft are very competitive, have a great fan following, and offer salaries and sponsorships (just like professional athletics), there is no physical exertion involved. I think to use the word “sport” in the name is unfair. eSports have a mental exertion rather than physical one. Which is why I would propose a rename to “eCompetitions” or something along those lines.

This in no way is putting down or demeaning what the competitors of StarCraft or any other online game

Physical sports, such as football, are known for the physical exertion and toll they take on the players bodies

are doing. It is rather changing their classification in order to respect the title athletes have rightfully gained. To call these players athletes is unfair. Even though they train for hours a day, and work very hard toward being the best, just like professional athletes, they aren’t athletes. Golf has received criticism for being “more of a hobby than a sport,” so I am honestly very surprised there hasn’t been more debate on the topic of “eSports.” In the end, these competitors are talented in their own field, but it isin’t from a physical standpoint, but rather mental, which is the simple and concise reason why those who participate in “eSports” are not athletes, but rather competitors. 

As you can see in the video below, StarCraft tournaments are pretty serious. This introduction is more intense than most professional sporting event intros, that’s for sure.



  1. brendangaughan · December 7, 2014

    This was a very interesting topic in which you chose to write this blog on. There have been a flurry of blog posts regarding the “level playing field” and the Michael Brown Case (me included), but this topic was refreshing and unexpected. Yes, I do believe that this blog was very unique, however, I do not completely agree with your argument regarding the categorization of these individuals that partake in eSports. For hundreds of years, sports have typically involved a competition between two individuals (or teams) partaking in physically demanding activities. Because of sports’ physically active notion, we categorize bench-pressing, squatting, tackling, jumping, punching, running and swinging as the norm “physically demanding” exercises. However, that became the norm due to a lack of technological advancements for many years. In this day and age, technology is becoming an influential part of our society and it is clear that some things, including sports, are beginning to change.

    Our previous understanding or categorization of a sport might be the aggressiveness of football, or the finesse of basketball, but whom is to say that the use of our brains for devising attacks, forming new strategies, adjusting to unexpected events isn’t physically demanding? In my opinion, these individuals that compete in these eSports are definitely considered athletes because their physical exertion is simply intellectual exertion. Both physically demanding and intellectually demanding games require a certain level of dedication, practice, and hard work. In addition, these eSport athletes have trained rigorously to become the top athletes of their sport and use their skill sets to defeat their opponent – just like any other professional athlete would.


  2. ethanmartin95 · December 8, 2014

    I definitely agree with your position. There is something weary about calling StarCraft a sport. I would never call chess a sport and StarCraft is often compared to a games such as chess and other mind games. It isn’t fair to classify physical athletes with mental “athletes.” As long as there is another classification for eCompetitors than it’s fine. Make another category for them but don’t put them together. There are too many obvious differences. Sure there is competition, and there are fans and money, and prizes but there is no physical part that defines sports for me personally. It’s not a sport but a competition. I agree with you and your correction of Huizinga’s argument.


  3. johnoett · December 9, 2014

    Personally, I have a very strict version of what constitutes a sport. In my opinion, a sport must involve not only physical exertion and athleticism, but also some kind of game or objective governed by rules. By my definition, baseball, basketball, football, hockey, soccer, etc. are sports, while events like running and swimming are not. I am in no way downplaying the difficulty and merit of things like running and swimming (I am a swimmer myself), I just do not think they are sports. In the case of Starcraft, while it does involve a game and objective, it is missing the athletic, physical component, so I’d say it’s about halfway there. Personally, I find it interesting how controversial saying something is not a sport can be. Whenever I would tell my fellow swimmers I didn’t think it was a sport, they would be incredibly offended (the same goes for runners and other athletes). Like I said before, I have tremendous respect for all athletes, and the merit of one’s activity is not determined by whether it is a sport. Sport is just a word, but for some reason everyone wants it to be associated with their activity of choice.


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