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The commentary is a theoretical framework that builds on the concept that eSports should be considered a sport. The first part of the paper analyzes the definition of a sport and determines that competitive video games should apply to the meaning. The second part of the paper discusses how eSports should be recognized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). In addition, the application of Title IX is applied to have eSports listed as an emerging sport for women.
Recognizing ESports as a Sport Sitting in front of a computer and playing video games is not the image that comes to mind when a person thinks of an athlete. Instead, an image of someone who may not be physically fit and lacks athletic abilities is usually the stereotype that is associated. In some cases, people would refer to a gamer as a nerd or associate it with nerd culture (Kendall, 2011). The term gamer can be used to classify many different types of people. The most popular classification are people that play board games, collectible card games, and video games. For the purpose of this paper, the term gamer will be used to describe individuals that participate in competitive video gaming. With the advance of technology, competitive video gamers are starting to demonstrate the same athletic properties as traditional sports athlete. The concept of video games has also changed. Instead of playing video games recreationally, people are starting to play video games competitively in tournaments that closely resemble sports competition. This review paper will attempt to build the theoretical framework that eSports should be considered a sport and be recognized by The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
The first video game competition can be traced back to October 19, 1972, at Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in which about two dozen students competed playing Spacewar (Li, 2016). One of the first recognized competitive tournaments in video games was when Atari held a multi-city competition that offered 10,000 participants a chance to become a world champion in Space Invaders (“Players Guide”, 1982). Since then the way video games have been played has changed. The evolution of eSports is now known as competitive video gaming (Li, 2016). For the purpose of this review paper, eSports will be a general term that includes all the various eSports leagues from around the world. Each league could be compared to a different sports league that plays the same sport such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Bellator and Invicta Fighting Championship. The various eSports leagues have different rules, play different games, rank professionals differently and host tournaments and competitions. The consistent aspect throughout the leagues is that the competitors play video games and the athletes that win matches consistently could progress to a professional level.
One of the biggest debates concerning eSports is whether competitive video gaming can be defined as a sport. The definition of sport has been attempted many times, and a universal definition has not been determined (Perks, 1999). Rather than a definitive academic definition, people refer to the Oxford English Dictionary (n.d.) definition, “An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment” (para. 1). The definition of sport needs to be discussed to ensure that eSports can be defined as a sport.
The first term to analyze is physical exertion. Aadahl, Kjaer, and Jørgensen (2007) state that absolute intensity can be used to determine the intensity of exercise, by analyzing the multiple of an individual’s basal metabolic rate (MET). Since the MET could be used to determine exertion, a connection could be made via how the MET is affected when playing video games. Additionally, the oxygen levels (VO2) can be used; a moderate physical activity would have a 40%-60% VO2 reserve and/or 4-6 MET’s (Stroud, Amonette, & Dupler, 2010). In a study performed by Bronner, Pinsker, and Noah, (2013) male and female participants MET’s raised between 4-9 while participating in video games that involved dancing. Stroud et al., (2010) was able to get their participants VO2 and MET at a low to moderate activity level by standing and shaking Nintendo Wii controllers while playing Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games. This shows physical exertion being demonstrated during the playing of video games.
Multiple links can be observed between physical exertion and video games. Modesti, et al., (1994) conducted a study that showed the basal blood pressure is raised while playing a video game. Also, physical exertion could also be considered perceived exertion. Two ways to measure perceived exertion is using the 15-point Borg Ratings of Perceived Exertion (RPE) or the 10-point Borg category ratio (CR10) (Borg, 1998). Using RPE and CR10, a participant looks at the scale and determines how strenuous the activity feels. Heart rate can also be used to gauge perceived exertion, as the RPE scale is structured from 6-20 to represent heart rates. During video game competitions and training, many eSports athletes exhibited signs that could be considered physical exertion to keep up with the routine of being a professional video gamer (Li, 2016; Rodriguez, et al., 2016).
The second part of the definition to analyze is skill. To become a professional gamer, a player must learn different skills and techniques to get better. Researchers have used video games as a way to understand how a person develops skills (Boot, Sumner, Towne, Rodriguez, & Ericsson, 2016). Green and Bavelier (2015) conducted a study that showed people learn skills from playing action video games. Bavelier, Green, Pouget, and Schrater, (2012) conclude that not one skill but many skills are obtained playing action video games. In competitive gaming, the skilled players dominate people that play for fun (Li, 2016). In eSports, there is a clear divide in win – loss record between players that are considered professionals and those that are not.
The final part of the definition deals with a person or team that competes against another person or team for entertainment. Playing video games as a hobby has evolved into competitions and tournaments with cash prizes. Depending on the game being played, a person can enter a contest solo in the cases of fighting games such as Street Fighter, or join with a team, playing games such as Counter-Strike or League of Legends. ESports are broadcasted on ESPN in the United States and various networks around the world. Special eSports arenas have been constructed to host the events.
Countries have begun to recognize professional gamers as athletes. In the United States, professional gamers can obtain P-1 visas, which are given to athletes (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, n.d.). In 2013, professional gamer Danny “Shiphtur” Le was the first to receive a P-1 visa for eSports (Dave, 2013). In South Korea, the Korea e-Sports Association (KeSPA) is recognized by the Korean Sport & Olympic Committee (KeSPA, n.d.). KeSPA regulates athlete’s amateur and professional status (Li, 2016). The recognition of professional gamers grew in South Korea that the South Korean Air Force had an eSports team when professional gamers had to do mandatory military service (Li, 2016). Using the examples provided, eSports should be recognized as a sport.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is a member-based organization that has set the standard for college athletics in the United States (Masteralexis, Barr, & Hums, 2015). In 1989, a poll was administered in the United States that discovered 78% of Americans thought college sports was out of control (Masteralexis, Barr, & Hums, 2015). Since then, the NCAA has become the recognized authority over collegiate athletics. The NCAA has 1,121 college members with nearly half a million college athletes, competing in 24 sports among three divisions (The National Collegiate Athletic Association, n.d.). For eSports to be taken seriously as a sport at the collegiate level, the NCAA will need to recognize eSports as a sport. For that to happen, the sport must go through an extensive review process.
The first step for eSports to become recognized as a collegiate sport is to meet the NCAA’s definition of sport. The NCAA (n.d.) has a similar definition in the Oxford English Dictionary but expands on the sport being played at the collegiate level. Definition of a sport: For purposes of reviewing proposals, a sport shall be defined as an institutional activity involving physical exertion with the purpose of competition versus other teams or individuals within a collegiate competition structure. Furthermore, a sport includes regularly scheduled team and/or individual, head-to-head competition (at least five) within the competitive season(s); and standardized rules with rating/scoring systems ratified by official regulatory agencies and governing bodies. (para. 6)As discussed earlier, eSports falls into the definition of a sport and is already being recognized and organized by several college campuses (Wingfield, 2014). ESports also has an advantage to being acknowledged as a collegiate sport, since no defined gender is required to play competitive video games. Women and men can play together without an imbalance being created by gender differences. Since women can start a women-only team or participate with men, the recognition of eSports in the NCAA could fall under the emerging sports for women list.
A common misconception is that video games are just for men. According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 48% of women play video games in the United States (Duggan, 2015). The Entertainment Software Association (2016) has discovered, women over the age of 18 represent a larger portion of the gaming community than boys 18 years and under in age. The number of women that are playing video games continues to rise, according to Newzoo, female gamers increased 70% from 2011-2014, 18 million to 30.3 million (Harwell, 2014). There is a lack of data to account for the number of women that are currently participating in eSports, but women are starting to make an impact on the sport. Intel has begun to sponsor and nurture female only competitive teams in hopes to raise the number of female competitors (Buck, 2015).
With women creating female-only teams or being able to play with men in eSports, the ability for the NCAA to recognize eSports could fall under Title IX. The creation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C §§ 1681 et seq., was enacted to end discrimination on the basis of gender (Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 1972). The original text was vague and made it difficult to decipher what sports would be covered under the original amendment. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) which oversees Title IX released a letter in 2008 that helps try to define how a sport will be recognized under Title IX (U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, 2008). OCR’s definition will help determine if eSports should be covered by Title Ext. determine eSports as a Title IX sport, Robert Morris University (RMU) in Chicago, Illinois will be used as a primary example. Although RMU is not a NCAA member, the University is a member of a comparable organization, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and currently has eSports listed as a sport under the athletics department (Robert Morris University, n.d.). RMU treats eSports as a sport and the participants as athletes.
In the letter distributed by OCR, two main categories are reviewed. The first category that OCR uses to make the determination is to analyze the program structure and administration (U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, 2008). This review has two parts, the first part is to check “whether the operating budget, support services (including academic, sports medicine and strength and conditioning support) and coaching staff are administered by the athletics department or another entity, and are provided in a manner consistent with established varsity sports” (U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, 2008, para. 11). In 2014, Kurt Melcher brought eSports to RMU under the athletic department, with an operating budget that included hiring coaches and building an arena (Ruby, 2004). Initially, to comply with being consistent with varsity sports, 35 scholarships were provided to varsity and junior varsity players (Ruby, 2004).
The second part of the first category requirement questions if participants are recruited and receive scholarships compared to other varsity sports (U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, 2008). When the eSports program was just beginning at RMU, the recruitment mimicked other sports. Top amateurs were being contacted as well as the program was being marketed. The university received over 7,000 people who showed interest in joining the team and was able to secure amateurs who turned down going pro to play at RMU (Ruby, 2004). The university now grants around half a million dollars in scholarships for the eSports teams (TEDx Talks, 2016). The program structure and administration of RMU’s eSports closely resembles the structure of other athletic departments.
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