Is computer gaming really sport

But most radical of all, there will also be men and women hunched over computers, blowing away imaginary baddies (and goodies) with imaginary machine guns, while thousands of real people watch and cheer.

What’s more, they will be handing out medals for all cheap buccaneers jerseys this imaginary carnage just like all the other sports. Which begs the question: is computer gaming really sport at all?

esports or electronic sports is the umbrella term for organised, competitive computer gaming, usually between professionals. Competitive computer gaming has been around since the days of Pong in the 1970s. But that gang of youths gathered around an Atari console in some lucky bleeder’s bedroom has become 40,000 fans in a football stadium, some of them in fancy dress (image 1), all of them glued to the action on giant screens (image 2). Imagine the PDC World Darts Championship at Alexandra Palace, times it by six, take away most of the booze and you get some idea of what major esports events are like.

As with traditional sports, esports consists of many different games. But those games don’t necessarily mimic traditional sports. For example, in Aspen the game of choice is Counter Strike, a first person shooter in which you choose to be either a terrorist or a counter terrorist. No, you can’t be Lionel Messi. But the most popular is League of Legends, a multi player strategy game whose Wikipedia description sounds like it was written by the lovechild of JRR Tolkien and C 3PO. To the uninitiated, it sounds as impenetrable as cricket.

Big business online in arenas

But there are plenty of people who get esports, in all cheap saints jerseys its forms. In 2014 there were 205m viewers, according to Newzoo, which conducts market research for the computer games industry. The 2013 League of Legends world championship attracted 32m online viewers, more than double baseball’s World Series and even trumping game seven of basketball’s NBA finals. The 2014 League of Legends world championship attracted 40,000 fans to Sangam Stadium in Seoul (image 3), which hosted a football World Cup semi final in 2002.

But while South Korea is considered by many to be the cradle of esports, it is now doing enormous business in Europe and North America. In July 2014, 11,000 fans watched an esports event in a Seattle basketball arena. The event offered the highest esports prize pool so far $10.9m, more than golf’s USPGA Championship and was streamed by US broadcasting giant ESPN.

1m salaries for top players

But esports is more normally broadcast by specialist streaming platforms such as Twitch (image 4), which was recently purchased by Amazon for almost $1bn. In 2013, Twitch had 55m visitors a month and 600,000 users generating content. Not surprisingly, many of the world’s biggest corporations have got involved. esports revenue is expected to grow from $130m in 2012 to $465m in 2017, according to Newzoo.

Top esports players (like Carlos ‘Ocelote’ Rodriguez image 5) are feted all over the globe, and can earn upwards of 1m a year. But they are like traditional sportspeople in lots of other ways. They compete as part of slickly operated teams (image 6), which in turn compete in regional leagues. They might train for 14 hours a day. They study strategy, technique, the opposition. They demonstrate remarkable reflexes and mental agility. They deal with enormous pressure, experience euphoric highs (image 7) and shattering lows.

Michal Blicharz, originally from Poland, is a former judoka who has fulfilled many roles in esports, from competitor to referee to coach. He now organises esports events around the world.

Despite cheerfully referring to himself and his fellow esports enthusiasts as “nerds”, Blicharz passionately believes esports is indeed sport. “I’ve sweated on the judo mat enough times to have a good opinion about it,” he says.

“Judo and esports are not that dissimilar,” he adds. “There are tournaments, you have to climb up a ladder to eventually compete with the best. In terms of training you have to put in the same amount of hours, perhaps even more in esports. You study strategy, technique and opponents. All the elements are there the excitement, the adrenalin, players crying tears of sorrow and joy.”

Blicharz concedes physical exertion in esports is minimal, although some players do get struck down with repetitive strain injuries. But the fact that most dictionary definitions of ‘sport’ include the words ‘physical’ or ‘athletic’ hasn’t prevented darts or snooker from shielding under the sporting umbrella.

However, and in common with most people you speak to in the esports community, Blicharz doesn’t really care if people think esports is sport or not. esports is doing things its own way and traditional sports should take note.