The debate over exactly what defines an “athlete” has raged for ages, and while the term can be traced back to an Ancient Greek word that translates to “one who competes for a prize,” it’s doubtful we’ll see arguments over what should or should not be considered a “real” sport come to an end any time soon.
There are a lot of people out there who equate athleticism with physical prowess with an emphasis on pushing your body to the limit, which is why you’ll find plenty of skeptics who insist that driving a car around a track for an extended period of time or walking 18 holes and occasionally hitting a ball while your caddy lugs your clubs around for you isn’t particularly impressive.
Video game competitions are certainly nothing new but it’s safe to say things have come a long way since kids were competing for bragging rights in arcades in the 1980s. Back when G4 was still a thing, I remember watching a show about people who managed to make a living playing Halo, and while their lifestyle wasn’t exactly glamorous, I remember being pretty blown away that it was possible to support yourself by being particularly skilled at killing people online.
Well, it’s safe to say things have come a long way since then, as streaming and esports have become all the rage over the past decade or so, and as interest in this particular sphere has increased, so has the amount of money up for grabs. Professional gamers routinely take part in tournaments where millions of dollars are on the line, and a couple of years ago, a study was released that claimed it’s only a matter of time until they start making even more money than the athletes who partake in some more traditional pastimes.
When you consider how many people spend a sizable chunk of their day in front of a computer, it’s understandable that plenty of members of the general public are hesitant to apply the “athlete” label to those who make more money at a single Call of Duty or League of Legends tournament than they do in a year. However, as a recent report by Wired highlights, pursuing a career in this line of work can take more of a toll than you think.
The outlet spoke to one aspiring pro who said she saw her hopes and dreams come crashing down after she tore a ligament as a result of her marathon Apex Legend sessions in addition to a number of experts who say her case is far from an isolated incident. Along with the physical problems some players encounter, medical professionals say spending countless hours gaming can also take one hell of a mental toll and have observed a number of people who’ve been forced to grapple with depression and insomnia as a result.
When you consider some high schools have made esports a varsity program and an Overwatch team was purchased for $40 million last year, it’s pretty clear competitive gaming—and the argument over whether or not it’s a “real” sport—aren’t going to go away at any point in the near future, so it’ll be interesting to see how the industry adjusts to and addresses its darker side.