Is esports a sport? The discussion on this question is vehement. E-sports teams, event organizers and, more recently, the E-Sports Association are in favor of treating digital and classic sports equally and thus venturing into the modern age. The federal government, but above all the German Olympic Sports Confederation, stick to the antiquated definition of the term sport. It seems to be only a matter of time before it is finally decided what has to be decided: e-sport is sport. - A comment by André Volkmann

Despite professionally organized competitions, active professional teams and millions of fans worldwide: e-sports is still a long way from where it should have left for digital sport to be able to decide the seemingly never-ending discussion in its favor. 

E-athletes: Physically and mentally challenged enormously

As is so often the case - and that combines e-sports and sport - the debates are not about success, not about the audience, and certainly not about the athletes: Financial regulations, especially those of tax breaks, are the focus. This is not fair, because e-athletes and their clubs - if they actually existed - would have deserved the special support that benefits even the smallest village soccer club.

If e-athletes are successful nowadays, it is due to the support from their professional environment, which is more a company than an association. E-sports are profit-oriented, tough - like the Bundesliga. It is hardly surprising that their clubs, mostly traditional clubs, grab talented digital athletes. It has long been recognized there that you can get a lot more out of the esports segment than you are currently doing. It's about sales. As long as that is the case, esports will find it difficult to be recognized as a sport.

In any case, it's not because of the performance of the athletes. If the discussion were carried out at this level, it would be done quickly: E-athletes have to make decisions within milliseconds, implement them on the screen and perform several hundred movements on the mouse, keyboard and controller. In the professional segment, esports is demanding, exhausting - in large matches it is even exhausting. Measured against the stress level of the protagonists, e-sports are professional sports.

It's not because of the popularity: The number of viewers is increasing steadily. Photo: André Volkmann

It's not because of the popularity: The number of viewers is increasing steadily. Photo: André Volkmann

But that is precisely the problem: the junior area is hardly available and where it is, it is hardly noticed. Clicking a bit in your free time, maybe together and organized with others? You can only do that through your own initiative and self-financing. Kick a bit in your free time, maybe together and organized with others? This is available almost everywhere on good terms - it is called a football club - and is usually much less well organized than the average Fortnite crew that trains in Grandpa's party basement.

In any case, the time investment is high even for hobby e-athletes - more than for any young athlete who trains twice a week and is on the pitch at the weekend. Fans spend many hours in front of their screens. Professionals even more so, but after all that's their job, for which they are usually well paid considering their age. Eight to ten hours of training per day are not uncommon for esports professionals. It's not just about "gambling", but about fitness training, relaxation exercises, tactics training or team meetings. The difference to a professional of classic sports? Unavailable. 

Gamers shouldn't have any illusions: only very few make the leap from hobby to professional area in e-sports. Not least because there is no actual talent promotion on a non-profit-making level. 

The esports discussion is being conducted on the wrong level

If it is not the achievements of the e-athletes and the wishes of the fans hardly count: Then why is it that the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) cannot bring itself to recognize e-sport as a sport? 

The stigma of video gamers probably plays a big part in this: the average gamer is fat, lazy and pretty dimwitted. And such a person will hardly be allowed to officially call himself a world champion in anything - and certainly not take part in Olympic competitions. Now one could limit oneself to the legal term “sport” instead of to social or virtuous discussions. And faces a problem: Because you don't move in e-sports, it can't be about sport: that is - put simply - the result of the report that the DOSB commissioned and that was published in mid-2019 is.

The chess player who has to do complex finger exercises 300 times per minute is something you would love to see against this background. What sport is, namely movement, was quickly defined. What movement is - and how it can be defined from a modern point of view - is ignored for the sake of simplicity.

Organization in the professional segment: Large e-sports tournaments fill large halls. Photo: André Volkmann

Organization in the professional segment: large esports tournaments fill large halls. Photo: André Volkmann

On some points, the discussion then goes in the opposite direction: Of course, e-sports cannot withstand the term sport when it comes to adhering to non-profit structures. Paid athletes who take part in events are detrimental to the public good (Football as a popular “national sport” that generates license fees has to be excluded from the discussion at this point – after all, football is not discussed!).

Because the non-profit sector in e-sports does not exist due to the lack of good framework conditions, the argument is lost in a backward justification. The fact that the organizational framework (e-sports) and the action of the player (gaming) can be two completely different factors is not even mentioned in the report - instead, people are busy working on the stigma. Not that it would occur to anyone that not all gamers are addicted to the internet or to games.

E-athletes depend on good framework conditions

Now you could simply put the discussion "ad acta" and start playing - also at big tournaments. This is exactly what is currently being done and it works – at least for now. The more popular the sector becomes - it has been growing for years - the higher the socio-political requirements. Because seasons sometimes last for months, but foreign e-sportsmen only get visas for Germany for a very limited time, even taking part in the competitions is sometimes an enormous act of administration – it is an administrative act anyway. This imbalance to "classic professional sport" is absurd in the modern Internet and information age - and not fair to the hard-training digital athletes.

Politicians have to be credited with the fact that they approach e-athletes in small steps - the issuing of a visa is one of those steps. The realization that e-sports is a non-sport worthy of recognition is at least there. 

Tournaments in large halls are good, but esports has to start small. Photo: André Volkmann

Tournaments in large halls are good, but esports has to start small. Photo: André Volkmann

Political representatives and the German Olympic Sports Confederation are obviously not aware of what you can do in the long term: you carry a hobby on a purely economic, company-controlled level. What many fans and even club representatives denounce in football, namely promoting commercialization, does not seem to bother anyone in e-sports. Of course, it is good when well-known clubs build teams, promote talent and produce world champions - but they also want to print money.

This is exactly what e-sports must get away from, especially now: club structures at the lowest level, anchored in the middle of society, with funding opportunities for non-profit associations - this is where the future of digital sport lies. And thus for young offspring, non-athletes, a motivating, contemporary access to the constantly dying club landscape. 

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