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Editor's Corner: Pro Gamers Are Not Athletes, But So What?

Posted on Wednesday, April 9 @ 16:01:17 PST by

When one of the best colleges in South Korea, Chung-Ang University, announced last month that it would be accepting eSports applicants to apply for its Department of Sports Science, the inner competitive gamer in all of us shined just a bit brighter. See, mom! Playing all those vidja games actually means something (so long as I move to South Korea...).

That said, a controversy ensued: Are eSports pro gamers actually athletes? Does eSports even count as a "sport"? Chung-Ang's Department of Sports Science typically endorses more traditional, more physical sports like basketball, golf, snowboarding, etc. So tying an eSports into that category might sound ludicrous and unbefitting. Even the online news show The Young Turks couldn't escape having a debate.

In my eyes, the argument mainly boiled down to semantics and predispositions to certain definitions of words. The idea of an athlete conjures physical prowess and, at the very least, full body movement, and by that defintion, I agree that pro gamers aren't athletes. It requires tremendous hand-eye coordination and steely-eyed focus (mental stamina, perhaps) and some pro gamers could be athletes too.

But I wouldn't say that the gamut of pro gamers, in the same vein as poker players, should be called "athletes." Even race car drivers and golfers are on the borderline for me in terms of being called athletes, though the requirements for physical fitness to be a top player for both has certainly grown over the years to the point that it's far less of an issue. (And perhaps the growth of eSports will also breed top players who need to be physically fit too.) The only gamers I'm comfortable calling athletes are hardcore DDR players.

Still, that doesn't mean pro gaming isn't a sport or a hardcore competition. If chess is recognized as a sport by the International Olympic Committee, then pro gaming should be well within the boundaries of being called a sport too. And with a plethora of international tours, online gaming networks, and loads of prize money on offer at competitive events, eSports isn't some wallflower and should be taken seriously. In South Korea, it might as well be a national sport, and if a prestigious university is behind a top player who could potentially earn the school fame and even money, why the hell not?

If it makes people feel better that the university had named the eSports scholarship something else, fine. But I don't think the hoopla over definitions matters as much as this promotes the idea that someone with pro gaming skill has value in society and that it should carry equal weight to academic and extracurricular achievements. Prospective students shouldn't be afraid of putting the fact that they placed 3rd in a national gaming competition for Call of Duty on their application. It's a stigma that needs to played out as soon as possible.

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