With the recent acquisition of Twitch by Amazon and the growing popularity of eSports events like The International, many have begun to wonder what’s next for the world of competitive and broadcast gaming. There’s no denying that eSports is slowly starting to gain traction among the mainstream, but it’s hard to predict just how far its reach might go.
If ESPN President John Skipper has anything to say about it, however, eSports’ reach won’t be that far. When asked point blank what he thinks of the growing popularity of eSports, Skipper’s response was that it is “not a sport.”
ESPN’s President made the comments during the Code/Media Series: New York conference and made no qualms about what he thinks of eSports. Skipper likens competitive video games to chess or checkers, calling the events competitions but not “sports.”
“It’s not a sport — it’s a competition. Chess is a competition. Checkers is a competition. Mostly, I’m interested in doing real sports.”
He didn’t say much more than that, but coming from the President of the “Worldwide Leader of Sports” that’s a pretty damning proclamation. Or is it?
While Skipper may not believe in eSports’ viability, it’s worth pointing out that ESPN just recently featured The International on one of its main channels. Granted, it wasn’t the full tournament, but even just showing a portion of the event was a big win for eSports.
By all accounts, gaming as a hobby and gaming as a competition are seeing major growth. More and more gamers are participating in major tournaments, and many are finding careers playing a single game. The winners of The International, for example, have seen their prize purse balloon from $1 million when the tournament first launched in 2011, all the way to $5 million for the winning DoTA 2 team in 2014.
That isn’t to say that eSports is or isn’t a sport; in fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a solid argument for either side. Competitive gaming is what it is, and it shouldn’t matter how people classify it, but rather the focus should be on touting its legitimacy.
To put it another way, the question isn’t whether eSports is a real “sport,” but rather how high competitive gaming can soar. Right now, it looks as if the sky is the limit. Not bad for a checkers-like competition.
Do you think eSports is a “sport?” Would you be surprised to see competitive gaming regularly featured on a channel like ESPN? Would you watch?