Sports, most often, are played with balls. If instead you use a mouse and keyboard, are you playing a sport? The sports world should welcome competitive video games. It doesn’t matter that “eSports” are played in virtual arenas and the competitors are seated. They share the important traits that make traditional spectator sports worthwhile.

What are eSports?

ESports include PC games such as League of Legends, Dota 2, and StarCraft II. League of Legends is a free-to-play game developed and published by Riot Games. Users control characters called “champions,” each with unique abilities. Two teams of five compete online with the goal of destroying the opponent’s “nexus,” a building at the heart of each team’s base. Champions start the game weak and gain advantages by earning gold and experience as the round progresses. Dota 2 and StarCraft II have similar gameplay.

Competition is organized in amateur and professional leagues. Sponsored professional teams fight for millions of dollars in prize money and several pay players regular salaries. Major competitions fill stadiums with thousands of fans. Participation and viewership of competitive gaming has grown in recent years to rival that of traditional spectator sports.

Are eSports sports?

The United States federal government essentially classifies the top international players the same way as professional sports stars. Since 2013, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services department has given P-1A visas for “internationally recognized athletes” to competitors, such as Canadian League of Legends player Danny Le and South Korean StarCraft II player Kim Dong-hwan. That’s the same type of visa that lets the NHL, which is primarily filled with Canadians, exist.

Teamwork

ESports require the kind of teamwork traditional sports glorify. Teammates must coordinate and work in sync. Tactics and execution are no less crucial than they are in football. In League of Legends, each player takes on a specific role, like a position in a traditional sport. “Supports,” for example, do not deal and cannot take much damage, but they assist by healing and shielding teammates and by disabling and hindering enemies.

Athleticism

Sports purists may cry out, “Where’s the athleticism?” Sure, you don’t need the lung capacity for lasting 90 minutes on a soccer field, but sloth can be as deadly a sin as it is in Christian morality (or traditional sports). There is a physicality to eSports. Reflexes are key. If you can’t move and click the mouse and hit keys quickly enough, you will fail. Players with better hand-eye coordination carry a major advantage. The world of eSports belongs to the young. Once players’ reflexes slow down, like most athletes on the wrong side of 30, they struggle to compete at the highest level.

Dedication 

ESports require the same kind of prowess as traditional sports. To excel, you need to dedicate yourself to the game. You need to continually hone your skills. Strategies evolve, innovations spread, and players adapt to keep up. Just as traditional sports teams study film, the best eSports players absorb thousands of hours of professional gameplay to gain a competitive edge.

A growing phenomenon

Thirty-six million unique viewers watched the most recent League of Legends World Championship final in October 2015, according to Riot Games. Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, by comparison, drew fewer than 31 million viewers, according to ABC.

ESports are too big to be ignored as a cultural phenomenon. Competitions feature “casters” providing live commentary and analysts breaking down gameplay. Fans follow coverage of league and tournament play from several different media platforms dedicated to eSports. They can even draft their favorite pros in fantasy leagues.

Does that sound crazy? Well, that’s what sports do to people. #Video Game