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Logging off from the esports debate Learning to live with videogames being considered “sports”

Over the past few years, I have become annoyed at esports headlines creeping their way into my sports coverage. How dare those nerds interrupt me from reading the 40th straight TSN article arguing about just how good Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews are?

However, after some consideration, I have reached a compromise for anyone else who was still fighting that losing battle against esports.

Perhaps it is better to think of esports more as a billion-dollar industry and competition that happens to get sports coverage because of its name.

I grew up with gaming, and watching sports, yet the rise of esports has never felt like two great tastes going great together.

Esports advocates argue that the preparation, practice, coaching, and level of competition involved make its competitors no different than any athlete. While I still disagree with this, maybe it’s beside the point.

Arguing about the physical demands required for a competition to be considered athletic, I realize, is largely semantics. 

I’m probably just reacting in the typical online-bred, over-the-top manner to coverage I find uninteresting; gaming culture is often an easy target for disdain and jokes.

However, there’s not much getting around the fact that esports is a near-billion-dollar industry. It is difficult to see its growth slowing down, absent a sudden complete collapse of the gaming industry.

Is this fair to either traditionalists or gamers to cover esports alongside other sports?

Christina Kang, Left, Txabi Sumastre, middle, and Taylor Peters, right, after Sumastre won the FIFA e – gaming tournament at the Gateway at SAIT in Calgary on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. The event was organized by SAIT but sponsored by Microsoft. (Photo by Ian Gustafson/SAIT)

Justin Simpao, a University of British Columbia (UBC) student who serves as the VP external relations at UBC’s esports club, sees the debate as somewhat apples-and-oranges.

He says that esports should be seen more as a “parallel” to traditional sports.

Simpao, an avid Vancouver Canucks fan, considers professional esports players athletes, but also compares them to professional poker players.

While he was pleased with the coverage esports has gotten via traditional sports media, he also sees this coverage as potentially “inhibiting the growth” of esports.

He notes that mainstream coverage is under the single umbrella of “esports,” regardless of the game being played. Simpao compared it to if hockey, football, and basketball players were all just referred to as “sports players.”

Simpao’s stance – that esports is a competition alongside, but not really competing with, traditional sports – offers middle ground for the anti-esports faction.

If traditionalists can’t stop esports’ growth, we can at least live with it.

Perhaps esports should just be seen like other esoteric “sports”, such as poker and darts, or (for many Canadians) NASCAR. These aren’t really sports with a casual audience, but with far more time, strategy, and skill going into them than it appears.

“I have this conversation with my family all the time. Not whether it’s a sport, but whether it should exist,” said Simpao with a laugh.

As a millennial, my mind also addled by gaming, I might be halfway there to accepting esports.

Unless I have to, one day, deal with a Flames game getting pre-empted by esports. But gamers couldn’t possibly take over the sports world completely, could they?

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