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The Rise of eSports: A Conversation with Dr. Brandon Spradley

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Dr. Brandon Spradley and students from the Sports Authority of Thailand visit the eSports Arena at Hawaii Pacific University.

By Dr. Brandon Spradley |

Dr. Brandon Spradley is the Chair of Sports Management at the United States Sports Academy. He recently discussed issues related to the rise of eSports in the sports profession.

Is professional video gaming a sport?

If you would have asked me this question a few years ago, I would have said absolutely not. Now, I am beginning to see eSports in a new light with a new perspective. I recently went on a sports study tour with a group of students from Bangkok, Thailand. The study tour was organized by the United States Sports Academy and the Sports Authority of Thailand. One of the places we visited was the eSports Arena at Hawaii Pacific University.

Many colleges in the United States are starting eSports clubs and offering scholarships to students to compete as a member of their team. During our visit, we had the opportunity to speak with some of the eSports managers, coaches, and players about why they believe eSports should be considered a sport. One of the coaches mentioned that some of the same characteristics seen in traditional sports can be observed in eSports such as teamwork, strategy, reaction time, mental acuity, and leadership skills.

They also mentioned that hours of practice and training goes into competitive video gaming, similar to that of traditional sports. The primary difference between eSports and traditional sports is the obvious: physical activity (or lack thereof). The question becomes: does eSports have an acceptable level of physical activity to be considered a sport? I would have to say no to that question, however I do see many similarities between eSports and traditional sports and understand how it can be labeled a sport.

Will eSports continue to grow in the sports profession?

Absolutely. I believe eSports will continue to grow and become even more popular in the sports profession. Esports is a multi-million-dollar industry and is extremely popular in parts of Asia such as South Korea and Japan and becoming more popular in the United States and Europe, among other countries. Professional video gaming has been around for decades but has become popular in the mainstream sports industry over the last few years.

The professional video gaming community has done a great job of branding the industry as eSports and transitioning more into the sports profession. Because of this, eSports has been televised on ESPN as well as other television stations. Many sports leaders “jumped on the eSports train” because they see its potential growth. Adam Silver, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association (NBA) has been on the forefront of establishing eSports as an integral part of the basketball industry. The NBA 2K series is a basketball video game centered on the NBA and is very popular among teenagers and young adults. Over the past year, Silver established the NBA 2K League, which is now the fourth league in the NBA family (NBA, WNBA, G-League, NBA 2K League). Esports will continue to grow in the sports profession with smart branding and marketing.

Will eSports ever be included in the Olympics?

This is a hard question to answer. I do not see eSports included as an Olympic sport in the immediate future, but there is a possibility of its inclusion long-term. In 2016, a South Korea-based International eSports Federation submitted a request to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to obtain information on how to gain inclusion for eSports as a medal event in the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. This request has now become a movement. The Olympic Council of Asia plans to have eSports as a demonstration sports in the 2022 Asian Games in China.

In order for eSports to be included in the Olympic Games, industry leaders must ensure eSports does not contradict the principles, values, and overall approach to the Olympic Games. The Olympics has always focused on the athlete, with emphasis on the movements and actions of the human body. In eSports, the focus is taken off of the human body to a virtual screen. Most of the attention in eSports focuses on the virtual screen because that’s where the action can be seen.

In chapter 6 of the book Law, Ethics, and Integrity in the Sports Industry, the author examines the issue of eSports inclusion in the Olympic Games. The author argues that there are three major discrepancies between eSports and traditional sports: the production of space, the application of rules, and the treatment of the human body. These discrepancies could hinder eSports inclusion in the Olympic Games, at least in the near future. Nonetheless, eSports will continue to increase in popularity and viewership, and gain momentum in the mainstream sports industry.

References

Law, Ethics, and Integrity in the Sports Industry, Chapter 6: E-Sorts at the Olympic Games: From Physicality to Virtuality (Renata E. Ntelia)

Dr. Brandon Spradley is the chair of sports management at the United States Sports Academy. He recently discussed issues related to the rise of eSports in the sports profession.

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