It's a two-part question that's nearly as old as the concept of competitive sport itself, and at various points it's been asked of golfers, racecar drivers, chess players and poker players. The questions generally follow some variation of ...
Due to [Activity X] not involving running, jumping and feats of strength, does [Activity X] qualify as a real sport? And do its participants qualify as real athletes?
Naturally, in the digital age, we are seeing these questions asked of eSports professionals. Yes, they're playing competitive games in front of live audiences, and for substantial amounts of prize money. But does what they're doing constitute playing a sport? And should gamers be considered real athletes?
Thanks to a recent study by the German Sports University in Cologne, it appears that eSports participants undergo physical strains similar to those of normal athletes, and even require a degree of hand-eye coordination that surpasses levels found in table-tennis, which is an Olympic sport.
Professor Ingo Froböse, the German Sports University's expert of prevention and rehabilitation, has been studying eSports athletes for the last five years, and researched the physical strains a gamer is exposed to during a tournament. Seen as a pioneer in the field of eSports research, Professor Froböse was admittedly quite surprised by the results.
"We were particularly impressed by both the demands placed on the motor skills and their capabilities," said Froböse, per Deutsche Welle. "The eSports athletes achieve up to 400 movements on the keyboard and the mouse per minute, four times as much as the average person. The whole thing is asymmetrical, because both hands are being moved at the same time and various parts of the brain are also being used at the same time."
Froböse and his team then took their research one step further and conducted tests that measured levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Again, the results were very telling.
"The amount of cortisol produced is about the same level as that of a race-car driver," said Froböse. "This is combined with a high pulse, sometimes as high as 160 to 180 beats per minute, which is equivalent to what happened during a very fast run, almost a marathon. That's not to mention the motor skills involved. So in my opinion, eSports are just as demanding as most other types of sports, if not more demanding."
All of this would lead one to answer the initial two questions in the affirmative. So that's great for gamers, right? They're legitimate after all. Well, yes, on the one hand, it is good news. But on the other hand, they need to start training for their sport as if it actually is a sport. And this is something that they're not presently doing, which worries Froböse.
"In terms of their fitness, many of our test subjects are simply average citizens, and average citizens worry me. They simply aren't fit," said Froböse. "For example, they fail to do exercises that would strengthen the whole support system in the shoulder and neck areas. Were they to do this, this would improve their fine-motor skills in the arm area, something that is extremely important in competition."
In fact, not only would they improve their performance through a focus on training and fitness, but Froböse believes they'd increase the length of their careers as well. Most gamers are through with their careers in their mid-20s, but Froböse believes that they could tack at least another 4-5 years onto the back ends of their careers if they took exercise and nutrition more seriously.
And who wouldn't want to play professional sports for a living for as long as one could?