Sports Experts On HBO Laugh At ESports

Some people just can’t accept that a competitive video game and its world championship finals can fill up a huge sports arena. In a recent episode of HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, where the show’s panelists discussed the events of this year, League of Legends got it in the neck.

Is it a sport? Of course not! Is it only watched and played by people who also go to Star Trek conventions? Absolutely! Or so they say.

Before going insane though, truth be told, former professional tennis player Mary Carillo admits in the video that she had no idea eSports even existed. And while the above clip suggests the whole conversation was one-sided, in the full show — which you can watch on HBO Go — panelist Soledad O’Brien defends eSports and League of Legends.

Let’s just say, it will be interesting (and gratifying at the same time) to rewatch this clip, and all the similar ones in 5 years.

Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel: eSports Discussion (HBO Sports) [YouTube]


  • What really sucks is that most gamers who will defend “eSports” are rather biased and can’t fathom that maybe it’s not considered sports or even consider that there are problems with competition with videogames. Instead they should be openminded and actually discuss the issue. Rather then throw a tantrum and screaming, “It IS a sports! It IS serious!! I have to prove to my mum that I didn’t waste my life playing videogames!!!”.

    • Great post. Honestly I think it’s that need for validation which caused gamers to pick the world ‘sports’ in the first place.

      Yes, gaming requires some level of physical capability but very few people outside of gamers would consider them to be ‘sports’.
      Have a look through the Guinness Book of Records and you’ll find THOUSANDS of strange hobbies which can be done competitively and which require physical ability. Everything from speed reading the phonebook to knitting can be claimed as a sport and its competitors athletes.

      Gamers should just call them the Gaming Championships or whatever and stop trying to shoe-horn the art of sitting on your ass into the ‘sports’ category because they want to sound legitimate. If they do insist on continuing to use the term they should expect to continue to be mocked by people who aren’t competitive gamers.

        • That’s my argument there. if chess is officially categorised as a sport then why isn’t the massive apm count of RTS & RTT games classed as a sport yet?

          • Yeah. That chick’s reasoning that it’s not a sport was simply “it’s a game”. All I was thinking is ‘isn’t soccer and football a game? People go to a football ‘game’ you ‘play’ a ‘game’ of golf.”

        • Agreed. If cards and chess and darts are sports then so is gaming. It’s certainly very unconventional, and it’s definitely not a traditional sport.

    • Indeed… this stuff just organically happens as time goes on..

      Hell Beach Volleyball wasnt even a “sport” until a few years ago. And then there’s surfing, wakeboarding, snowboarding, etc.

  • Whose throwing tantrums? Surely no one important?

    Honestly if Texas Hold’Em can find its’ way onto ESPN then surely vidya gaimz can too…

    • Was about to point out the same thing, with any of the multitudes of incarnations of games labelled “football”. Whichever incarnation you pick: it has rules, it has competitors, it has victory conditions, it has specialised equipment, it has specialised arenas, it has physical stresses and endurance challenges, and it requires a hell of a lot of skill to be any good at it. And, if you look at the pro scene, you have corporate sponsors, prize money, and the best players in the game.

      To every one of those points, I could say “so does Starcraft.”

      • So does air guitar, rubix cube and speed knitting.

        Sure, you can call it as sport if it’s absolutely necessary for you to make yourself sound like some kind of athlete, but you should also expect that plenty of people are going to laugh at you.

        Competitive Starcraft does require a tremendous amount of skill, but it’s still a game. It’s a make believe representation of something else.
        Just call it Championship Gaming or something like that, people will understand that it requires skill and it will avoid the issues you currently have with gamers trying to shoehorn themselves into common definitions of ‘sport’ and ‘athlete’.

        • Why is Chess considered a sport? From the wikipedia page on Chess “Chess is a recognized sport of the International Olympic Committee”.

          • Please explain how is that a straw man argument? By the definitions applied above then we shouldn’t call Chess a sport but we do. Ergo I’m disputing his definitions.

          • Chess organizations had to fight for at least a decade before getting that recognition and if you ask most people they’ll laugh at you for calling it that. I don’t think it’s fair, and it’s just semantics, but don’t be surprised that people involved in regular sports will argue against eSports, at least for a while.

        • Cubing is more like a bunch of people showing their own skill levels independently, rather than competing against each other directly. Air Guitar… well, today I learned something; but again, a demonstration of skill, where each is judged independently. There is no dynamic, no moves that can force other competitors to change their own strategies; it’s essentially the competitors versus the activity, rather than versus each other. That said, sprinting has the same lack of dynamic competition… so maybe it’s direct competition – head to head parallel execution? What about high-jump? Again, that falls apart. Entertainment value? Too subjective – I find most sports extremely dull to watch, but will happily spend a day watching Starcraft tournaments, cheering for one side or the other.

          Perhaps the qualification that separates them is simply that they are niche competitions. It’s certainly nothing to do with physical fitness: just look at cricket, golf, ten-pin bowling or lawn bowls. What makes them more justified to be called sports?

          The only difference I can consistently locate, though, is public opinion. Things are sports if people say they are sports. Does it matter who says something is a sport, then? If so, why?

          And, to labour the point – what does it matter? It’s only a word, and a poorly defined one, at that.

          As far as I can tell, one of the main reasons pro eSports players want eSports to be classifies as sports is due to Visa restrictions that make it difficult to get to international tournaments. They are currently fighting to get sports visas to attend US tournaments, because it’s the closest applicable classification to describe what they do. I personally don’t care, but it seems to me that just including them in the “sports” label seems to be far less effort than adding separate clauses and restrictions to visa guidelines.

  • Instead of being angry at them, simply offer them your pity.
    Pity them that, not only do they live in ignorance, but they actively embrace, defend, and value their ignorance.

    They day I close my mind to new experiences, new knowledge and new concepts, is the day I will happily shuffle off this world, laptop safely tucked under my arm, LoL shortcut on my desktop

    • Yeah. I mean there’s a reason we qualify it with an e at the start. You may be able to argue that video games meet the requirements to be called a sport, but I think it goes against the common interpretation of the word. It’s not that eSports are less than ‘real’ sports but they are fundamentally different.

      I think for me to consider a video game a sport it’d have to be more than just popular titles being played competitively. Like instead of Starcraft it would be RTS. A game with persistent rules designed specifically as a sport that only receives cosmetic upgrades and minor rule changes. Until then it’s a bit like if cricket was just any game using a ball, with rules completely changing every year.

    • Yeah I had a conversation (massive argument) with my friend’s sister once about whether Ballet was a sport. She was convinced it was, because there were Ballet competitions, but it’s more like performance art. Just because you compete, that doesn’t make it a sport. Are Bikini models sportswomen when they compete in Miss Universe competitions? Are artists playing a sport by competing in art battles?

      People seem to get all confused and think that by denying what they are doing is a sport, you are denying it requires skills and talent and hard work to excel at it. That’s not what’s being said at all.

  • I classify ESports the same as “motorsport”.
    To me they’re both sports, they require training, and certain physical attributes.

    • I think you actually hit it on the head what they problem is, esports keeps being compared to the likes of football and tennis, when we should be comparing it to motorsports

      • They definitely do, getting their actions per minute up and stuff. They spend hours every day training and most players can’t maintain the dexterity required past a certain age. I don’t even care about this whole eSports thing but I do remember reading that much.

    • How many things in life can be competitive, require practice and require certain physical attributes?
      Honestly, that’s just about EVERYTHING.

      Seriously, gamers get really upset when people don’t consider their hobby to be a “sport” but at the end of the day, gaming IS a sport if you want to keep the definition broad enough. Its undisputable.

      At the same time that means you can classify just about any action which can be done competitively as a sport. People use their own judgement to build a common understanding of the line between ‘sport’ and ‘not sport’.

      I hate to say it, but even as a gamer, the line for ‘sport’ ends WELL before we reach virtual representations of things being controlled by dudes sitting on their asses. That to me (and most people), fits under the common definition of ‘game’.

      Where the line sits is going to be subjective, but it’s pretty silly for gamers to expect that people will give them the same respect and recognition as ‘athletes’ for sitting on a seat playing Starcraft as they would the athletes to sit in a seat driving a V8 supercar in the hot, dangerous and physically demanding environment (as has been rather foolishly suggested elsewhere).

      I suppose my question is where would the people who want gaming to be considered a sport like the line to be drawn? If gamers want the word to apply to them, to be athletes and considered on par with traditional athletes, will they then be upset when the speed knitters or Dungeons and Dragons players also want to use the term? It becomes worthless.

  • Yeah people get the words like ‘sport’ and ‘athlete’ mixed up. Athlete comes from Greek meaning prize or contest and doesn’t involve physical activity. So anything that’s a competition is technically athletic.

    I still think esports are more like pro chess players or pro monopoly plyaers or pro Rubik’s Cubers. But not like running the 100m in less than 10 seconds. It’s a completely different skill set, but they are both still skillful in their own right.

    Do pro chess players get visa recognition from the US?

  • Yeah, I agree, e-sports is like Chess, World Series Poker etc.
    If those things are a sport, then esports is a sport. If not, then it isn’t.
    Spectators love Poker, and e-sports, both can command sponsors and are highly competitive and require skills, strategy, training etc.
    I don’t think the panel is wrong, apart from the Star Trek thing, it isn’t an athletic sport in the traditional sense, but it is a competitive form of entertainment that has a following. Maybe a new term needs to be created, I associate sports with athleticism, I personally don’t consider Chess, Poker, Computer Games, D&D etc. a sport.

  • Two men who might have died between tape and air and a woman in her mid 50’s mocked it – not really the target demographic. How long do you think it took those three to be comfortable with e-mail? I don’t think they would really understand the current culture trends.

    They dismiss it because they’re irrelevant to anyone who would actually want to stream a League of Legends game. I don’t watch esports, but I can understand the passion and it’s legitimacy, but you’re not going to convince those three that it fits under their definition of “sport” or that the people are “athletes”. Esports seem to be growing very healthily. That’s how you’ll gain legitimacy.

    I don’t know if I would say that they are athletes, but the pro players have insane reaction times and precision with a mouse/keyboard. That said, these three are morons, the line about Star Trek conventions really shows how out of touch they are, they’re about 10 years late on that joke.

    – Reddit

  • Meh stop comparing them, I say. All require high levels of commitment from their respective athletes. To be the best at anything, be it StarCraft, ‘football’ (whichever your ‘football’ is), Motorsport, Jockeying, Ping Pong – anything – you have to pour large quantities of time to not only become the best, but remain there.

    I don’t see how a Triathlete running for 20 hours a week is any different to someone sitting at a PC honing reflexes and strategies for the same amount of time. Nor is it any different to Craig Lowndes sitting behind the wheel of a V8 supercar for hours at a time – is he not an athlete because he’s sitting and not running?

    It’s a stupid argument you can’t win either way, and nor should you want to.

  • As I see it, they are not sports in the traditional, elite physical fitness, but more in the strategy and technical.

    Now if that isn’t sports, then that means coaches aren’t involved in sports either.

    • It’s a bit like being a guy who works at Big W five days a week but busks on Saturday meeting a girl at the pub and telling her he’s a professional musician.

      He’s technically correct and not lying in any way. At the same time he knows full well that he doesn’t fit the common understanding of ‘professional musician’ but wants the tag so he can sound rad.

      Basically it’s a bit of a wank.

      • To compare eSports and traditional sports, you’d have to compare the professionals in both circumstances, not the professional in one and the average person who does it as a hobby in the other.

        By the same token, I could argue that football isn’t a sport because some guy plays it once a week and passes himself off as a professional, but eSports IS a sport because some other guy trains 5 days a week and competes all over the world.

        • Sorry, maybe my analogy was a bit misleading.

          I wasn’t trying to compare someone who’s professional with someone who’s not. If someone makes a living gaming I have no problem at all with them calling themselves a professional gamer.

          More to draw the analogy of someone trying to shoehorn themselves into a title which would be misleading to the average person. Gamers aren’t athletes in the same sense that most people would think of athletes. Games aren’t sports in the way people think of sports.

          Gamers with the urge to tell people that they’re sports athletes are just being tossers. What’s wrong with professional gamer who plays championship gaming? Nothing.

          • Appreciate what you say. But it is a competition. And here’s the thing. When you play a *game* of footy with your friends, it’s a game. When you play a *game* of footy professionally, you are an athlete. Why should we draw a line and say professional LoL/DOTA2/etc players aren’t athletes. Perhaps we could call them “Digital Athletes” or some such. But they are playing a game professionally. Much like football/cricket/whatever.

            You don’t have to be super fit. Darts players come to mind. (Good hand/eye. Much like pro gamers).

          • Look you can call them athlete if you want, but at the end of the day they aren’t what most people would consider athletes to be and calling themselves that just opens them up to ridicule.

            I don’t think there’s too many darts players out there who’d call themselves athletes either for the same reason.

            It’s like working at Maccas and calling yourself a professional chef. Sure you might technically qualify as one, but people are going to think you’re a knob if you try to take that label.

            If some skinny kid tells me he’s a professional gamer, I’m going to tell him he’s awesome. If he tells me he’s an e-sports athlete, I’m going to give him shit.

  • Coaches don’t play the sport. They coach people who play the sport.

    Compettitive computer gaming is not sport. If it is, then we might as well put playing competitive Snakes and Ladders into that category. Competitive darts? Have professional darts players labelled that a sport? It may be televised in sports channels, but I’ve not labelled darts as a sport.

    Just because something can be competitive doesn’t immediately mean it is a sport.

    Currently, the majority of the populace (i.e. the world) understands the word “sport” to mean specific types competitive game that not only requires the player to invest time, money, blood, sweat and tears in it but also requires some form of physical AND mental activity. At the moment, other the millions of clicks, endurance to stay in once seat for long periods of time (which is not very healthy, by the way) it requires no other physical activity. Admittedly, however, it requires quite a lot of fore-thought and strategy (mental acuteness). But so do actual sportsmen athelete. So sports = both mental and physical. Gaming = mental only and minimal physical activity.

    My definition of sport may change in the future, by the future. It really depends on what the majority of the world’s population deem a word to mean. It’s just semantics.

    • No, it isn’t what you think the word means, it isn’t what everyone else thinks the word means. “Sport” has a definition already. You can’t change it just because you’re mistaken in its definition.

  • OK, what does the Oxford OED say a sport is?
    1. an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment:team sports such as soccer and rugby [mass noun]:I used to play a lot of sport (as modifier sports)a sports centre
    Given how little physical activity is involved, I don’t think this one counts. If gaming is a sport by this measure, so is singing (in fact singing would generally involve more physical effort).
    (archaic) a source of amusement or entertainment:I do not wish to show myself the sport of a man like Wildeve

    This is a slim sort of match, but I don’t think it counts.

    2. informal a person who behaves in a good or specified way in response to teasing, defeat, or a similarly trying situation:go on, be a sport! Angela’s a bad sport

    Given some of the videos I’ve seen of the behaviour of “cyberathletes”, this definitely doesn’t apply.

    3. (Biology) an animal or plant showing abnormal or striking variation from the parent type, especially in form or colour, as a result of spontaneous mutation.

    This one is tempting, but no.

    Of course, by this measure Chess is also not a sport. Fair enough. An activity doesn’t have to be a “sport” to be entertaining to watch.

    Interesting counterexamples are golf and lawn bowls, both of which are “sports” requiring very little physical effort.

  • “Sport” comes from the Old French desport meaning “leisure”, with the oldest definition in English from around 1300 being “anything humans find amusing or entertaining”

    End of argument.

  • I think it is important to bring attention to the fact we call it E-Sport, not Sport.

    We know it is different even though we treat it similarly to conventional sport. There are teams, coaches, players, an arena relevant to whichever game is the focus in any given circumstance, prize pools, strategy, planning, training and so on. There are also us, the spectators and televised (in some countries) and broadcast matches with well known commentators with knowledge of the game.

    It is a sport in everything but name, we know this, which is why we call it E-Sports instead.

    Also, wouldn’t mind seeing the whole panel on the topic, there were a few people there more or less in agreement and there was potential for a decent debate.

  • These guys are older than me and when I went to school you got picked and beat up on for playing video games, so they grew up in that era as well. Nowadays, you don’t get beat up for playing video games. So don’t worry, like dinosaurs, these guys will all die out soon and my kids and their friends (who grew up playing Minecraft and Angry Birds) will be calling sports games and hosting TV shows.

  • LOL the old guy at 2:00 scoffing at the 20 million kerazy people ‘watching the damn thing!’

    BTW Is he wearing a ‘sports’ jacket?

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