Most people outside of esports have a hard time considering professional gamers as athletes competing in a sport. As gaming becomes more popular in mainstream culture and as esports continues to gain more viewers, the argument about esports as a sport has become easier to accept. There’s growing research to support the legitimacy of professional gaming, and the U.S. government has treated professional gamers as athletes who have competed in sports for several years.
Physical and Mental Exertion
Professor Ingo Frobose was one of the first scientists to study individuals who compete in esports. Specifically, he studied the demands placed on players who compete in esports. He found that esports athletes can achieve up to four hundred movements on the keyboard and mouse per minute and that various brain areas are used simultaneously during gameplay. Moreover, esports athletes are exposed to physical strains similar to those in other sports, and the necessary hand-eye coordination goes far beyond table tennis because the player’s hands must work asymmetrically. The cortisol produced during an esports session is about the same as that of a race-car driver. During a gaming session, esports athletes have a pulse as high as 160–180 beats per minute, akin to fast running. Because of this, esports is just as demanding as many traditional sports.
Esports players are training like professional athletes. Time away from the screen spent inside a gym is separating the best of players from the rest. Wellness regimes, personal trainers, stretch coaches, and dieticians are all must-haves for professional gamers and teams nowadays. And equally important is mental preparedness. A healthy body equates to a healthy mind.
Sports are characterized by competition between individuals or teams, and esports, obviously, involves both. Whether it’s one-on-one with Street Fighter or five versus five in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), esports is all about competition.
Top Ten Benefits of Esports
1. Esports can improve health
As previously mentioned, esports athletes have a pulse as high as 160-180 beats per minute, akin to fast running. Of equal importance, there are huge benefits to one’s mental health. Video games lead to healthy brain stimulation. Playing video games forces gamers to deeply stimulate multiple areas of their brain, which leads to the development of numerous beneficial tasks and dimensions of thinking.
Many people use video games to help relieve stress. We all enjoy different ways of winding down, and, for many, immersing themselves in a game is a great way of coping with and gaining some perspective on the stresses of daily life. And contrary to stereotypes, gaming is an effective way to combat loneliness. The rise of streaming platforms and multi-player experiences online has given way to a new form of socializing in which players work together to solve problems. This can help people overcome loneliness and feel part of a genuinely supportive community.
2. Esports improves hand-eye coordination
Interestingly, the needed hand-eye coordination of a gamer goes far beyond table tennis, as in esports, both hands work asymmetrically. A recent study from the University of Toronto found that people who regularly play video games, particularly action titles like Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed, perform better in sensorimotor tasks and improve hand-eye coordination compared to people who do not play video games. The results suggest that playing video games could eventually become a treatment for people who struggle with hand-eye coordination or sensorimotor skills in general.
3. Esports teaches critical thinking
The cortisol produced during esports is at about the same level as that of a race-car driver. The left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is a part of the brain responsible for higher-order thinking, like decision-making and self-control. It is also key to processing complicated and intricate choices, particularly those that require a decision to be made in the short term, with effects that run into the long term. This is probably due to how action, racing, and some sporting games constantly require the player to make decisions at the moment while still being aware of how that decision will affect gameplay in the next few levels. Studies show adolescents who played more displayed an increase in cortical thickness in this area, suggesting that video games also improve complex cognitive functions.
4. Esports teaches problem-solving
Video games can help people develop coping mechanisms for difficult situations. Learning to overcome in-game challenges can make gamers better equipped to deal with real-life obstacles and difficulties. We all make mistakes daily. But the difference between that and the video game mistake is that in video games you know immediately you’ve made a mistake. If you try to jump from one cliff to another and can’t reach it, you learn to understand the distances that are too long to jump. This is a very important skill, as the ability to learn from your mistakes can be crucial. On the other hand, deep practice is what psychologists call repeating a set of circumstances repeatedly, as when you die at a boss’s mission and keep repeating the same behavior until you eventually get it right and pass the mission. While this is tremendously frustrating, it teaches consistency and is useful in problem-solving.
Another benefit of video games is that you can try different things to solve a problem without it costing you anything. The trial-and-error approach in video games is just as useful in real life. Plus, video games teach us that the solutions and the approaches we take aren’t always obvious and that trying another approach is harmless.
5. Esports increases memory capacity
A study exploring the link between video games and cognition finds that playing video games as a child can improve a person’s working memory years later on specific tasks, as various parts of the brain are being used simultaneously. Recent studies have shown that playing video games could improve learning and may even protect against dementia in older adults.
6. Esports provides opportunities for scholarships
Many colleges and universities have added esports to their athletic programs, and some offer esports scholarships for the most talented gamers. League of Legends, Hearthstone, and Overwatch are just a few of the games that esports teams play at colleges and universities around the US. If a student is looking to play competitively at the collegiate level and earn a college scholarship while doing so, there are plenty of video game scholarships, with many more to come as popularity increases at the collegiate level. A list of scholarships for gamers can be found at Esports Scholarships.
7. Esports cultivates team building
Esports helps develop teamwork skills that include communication, collaboration, and learning how to work effectively with others. One study in The Sports Journal notes that researchers “identified team dynamics and communication as potential barriers for esports players in achieving optimal performance.” No one wants to let their entire team down. Depending on the game, every player has assigned tasks. The best teams are the ones that work well together.
8. Esports creates funding opportunities for schools
The popularity of esports is driving investment in facilities within schools worldwide and helping to facilitate the growth of esports as both a qualification and an extra-curricular activity.
Esports fundraising, grants, endowments, sponsorships, as well as merchandising, advertising, and other means of monetization are all avenues open to institutions. They are much like other sources of traditionally funded sports or arts programs. Municipalities or local governments may also have funds or grants to support local activities such as school esports programs.
9. Esports creates pathways for industry jobs
The gaming industry offers many lucrative career paths. Research suggests that students interested in gaming and esports have a higher tendency to be academic achievers and are interested in high-paying STEM fields valued by employers. More than half of the UK’s 13 to 18-year-olds (55%) believe gaming is a viable career path and want schools to add it to the curriculum and create their own extra-curricular esports competitions, according to a 2021 survey by HyperX in 2021. While not every child who games will end up as a pro, there are other career paths within gaming, including game design, sound engineering, marketing, and voice acting, to consider.
10. Esports cultivates transferrable job skills
Researchers have also noted links between gameplay and skill development, such as visuospatial skills, increased attention, flexible thinking, and creativity. Online gameplay has also been linked to increased perspective-taking, leadership skills, and reduced stress. The positive effects of well-being may actually also be much broader, with recent work from Dr. Rachel Kowert, a research psychologist who studies video games and gamers, demonstrating how video game play can contribute to various outcomes related to life satisfaction, including a growth mindset, mindfulness, and resilience.
Esports Athletes in World Competitions
Esports was a demonstration event at the Tokyo Olympics 2021. The Olympic Virtual Series (OVS) involved five sports – baseball, cycling, rowing, sailing, and motorsport. The IOC labeled it “the first-ever Olympic-licensed event for … non-physical virtual sports.” Esports was a demonstration event at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta. And it will make its debut at the Asian Games 2022 (postponed to 2023), with medals being awarded in eight games, according to the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA).
Viewership for the Olympics Games has been declining, despite the increasing ways in which people can view it. The Olympic Games must find new ways to appeal to future generations. The fact is, esports is the fastest-growing spectator sport. Its viewership numbers continue to increase globally. In terms of the total prize pools, esports is starting to take the lead compared to other traditional sports. The Olympic Games could drastically change over the next few decades and it wouldn’t be a big surprise to see esports included as a medal sport and potentially one of the more popular in viewership.
Lucy Chow is a future-focused thought leader and author of Changing the Game: Discover how Esports and Gaming are Redefining Business, Careers, Education and The Future, which is available on all distribution platforms. You can follow her on Instagram here. Learn more at www.lucychowauthor.com.
By Lucy Chow