The Thinning Line: Comparing Traditional Sports to Esports

This Article was contributed by Matthew Carrico, Editorial Intern.

Over a decade ago, many people would not have thought that esports would make that much of an impact on the world of competition. Nowadays, competitive esports is just as commonplace as competitions in traditional sports with many of the same rules and structures applying to both mediums.

The growing interest in esports was helped by the pandemic keeping everyone locked inside. The pandemic also halted a majority of or outright canceled games in the field of traditional sports due to fear of spreading the virus. With this, activity in traditional sports ground to a halt for some time while esports garnered massive popularity due to the digital nature of the medium. Basically, people could enjoy esports from the comfort of their own homes without fear of catching the virus. 

This event creates a sort of balance between esports and traditional sports with many people devoting interest to one or both fields. The esports industry has done nothing but grow for many years now but many people still think of it as inferior to traditional sports and would bring things such as physical activity and communication into the mix. However, the mindsets of many people have changed as the restrictions of the pandemic are starting to loosen and traditional sports are getting back into full swing. People are seeing esports in a new light and can make direct comparisons between the two.

The purpose of this article is to show how far the line between traditional sports and esports has thinned. The inspiration behind this is very unique. Basically, the FaZe Clan, a well-known esports organization specializing in gaming, streaming, and content creation recently made the July 2021 cover of Sports Illustrated magazine. It is Sports Illustrated’s first esports-themed cover and details about it can be found here. This breaks many of the conventional boundaries that people find often divide the two mediums. When you look deeper into the heart of the two fields, it will not take long to find many similarities between the two. 

To start, let’s get some of the major differences out of the way. Traditional sports dates back to around 3,000 years ago. Believe it or not, sports originated out of various forms of war or hunting training during the time. Many early sports involved the use of spears, stakes, rocks, and other materials for one-on-one bouts. Of course, it would take a while for things to evolve the way they did. The first Olympic Games were held in 776 BC and included foot and chariot races as well as some of the first forms of wrestling, javelin throwing, and discus. Some people tend to overlook esports because they believe that sports were the first of their kind. 

The reality, however, is that many of the popular sports did not come all at once and some took thousands of years to fully develop. For example, baseball was invented only in 1845 by Alexander Cartwright and that was not even the first game with a bat. That honor goes to cricket whose roots date back to somewhere in the 16th century. The first rules for basketball were devised in 1892 but there were still grounds for improvement. The first American football game dates back to 1869 but the formal rules and regulations did not come into their own until 1879. Even then, this sport is a culmination of two much older sports in the forms of rugby and soccer. Every sporting event we take seriously today did not all come together simultaneously and some needed a lot of time to develop. Some of the most popular sports are actually fairly recent and esports is no different. To learn more about various sports histories, check out this site.

In that sense, esports is more recent than any of the traditional sports we know today but its history is interesting nonetheless. Video games are still a relatively new medium only being around for over half a century. Some of the first video games were very primitive yet innovative for the time as technology began to further develop. The very first esports tournament dates back to October 19, 1972, at Stanford University and featured the game Spacewar, a space combat game first developed in 1962. Back then, there was no internet connection but people could still compete as some of the first video games were in a more arcade-style. How it usually worked was some players would take turns as two players would fight it out in a match whoever lost would move on in the competition. This style of competition was not often correlated with traditional sports but did garner favorable interest that would be impactful for the future. This just goes over esports in its very beginnings but there is a lot of history behind it. To learn more about its evolution, check out this site.

The historical roots for both mediums may seem vastly different but it is not fair to compare them in their very beginnings. As things change and evolve, they inevitably gain new quirks about them that can be comparable. While esports is still very recent, technology development has been ramping up over the years and has impacted the esports scene into what it is today.

With that out of the way, it is time to compare and show just how similar esports and traditional sports are to one another. For both,  there are many instances where teams can come in depending on the event. Teamwork is integral to both as it requires a good deal of communication between teams to develop effective solutions and strategies in any given situation. It does not matter if you are playing in person or from a remote location, proper communication is key for both fields. 

Even if you are alone, there are a variety of esports genres and traditional sports that focus on one vs one environments. A likely example would be fighting games for esports and golf for regular sports. The fact of the matter is that both fields have their own events that are tied to a player structure. The roster of events for both mediums is incredibly diverse as well. Esports has many genres from First Person Shooters (FPS), racing, real-time strategy, and battle royales just to name a few. Traditional sports are also incredibly diverse with many areas such as track and field, aquatics, gymnastics, batting sports, etc. Even looking at tennis as a whole, there are many sports in a similar fashion such as volleyball and ping pong. The point is that both fields are brimming with large amounts of events for people to participate in.

Many sports and esports tournaments are structured in many similar ways as well. They both usually follow a tournament-style setup with various teams or individuals who play to make it to some championship event like the World Series (for traditional sports) or Championship Regional Leagues (for esports). They are generally organized in a style of brackets where various teams or individuals play against each other to come out on top and move up in the ranks until eventually coming out as the champion(s).

Many other similarities include offering social environments to interact with others and making new connections while building personal leadership and critical thinking skills. If you want to get more personal, both esports and traditional sports can be physically and mentally draining towards players and athletes in terms of training and playing. Some people who turn their passion into a career this way will find much of their daily life to be stressful with things such as intense training to hone your skills and scheduled matches or events that can take up most of your time. This is present regardless if you are an esports or traditional player.

Esports has grown to be a juggernaut in its own right and viewership is at an all-time high with numbers comparable to the most-watched sport, that being the NFL on the eve of the Super Bowl. Many people refuse to acknowledge esports as thier own right and downplay it as inferior to regular sports. The fact is that an esports team making the cover of a well-regarded sports magazine speaks volumes about where we are when directly connecting the two and potentially where it is going shortly. 


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