Notes from the Field #2: A Sport is a Sport is an eSport?

I used to get into a rather heated argument with a friend of mine named Christophe. You see, a few years back I had just started to get into poker. I mean really into it - I was watching professionals play it on television, and boring my friends by trying to convince them it was the best thing since sliced bread.

What really rubbed Christophe the wrong way was the fact I was calling it a sport. In his mind, in order for poker to meet that criteria it required an additional physicality. You needed to be exerting yourself and not just sitting in a chair. For this reason, poker to him was just a game.

I would always try and come back with counter-arguments. Sure, things like chess and poker were in essence games, but they had a different sort of physicality that allowed them to obtain sporting status. Both require huge amounts of mental energy, and they require a ton of stamina and patience during tournaments that often last days at a time (I hate to think what would have happened if I had shown him Chess Boxing). 

Is darts a sport? What about snooker? How about pistol shooting - that's even in the Olympics.

My biggest counter always remained that everything was a game to start out, but what made a sport a sport was that it transitioned into a form of entertainment. I could go pick up a tree branch from the street and label "stick throwing" a sport, but unless other people would make the effort to watch me do it I was just tossing a stick around like an idiot.

I have a new one for Christophe that I'm sure will keep us in further heated debates for a long, long time - can you classify video gaming as a sport?

Professional Video Gaming, or eSports, is one of the fastest growing forms of entertainment in the world. Right now, the numbers are pretty staggering - in 2013 over 71 million people actively watched competitive gaming as a spectator.

Last year Amazon bought video game streaming platform Twitch for just shy of a billion dollars. That's a big bet on the future of the platform, but when you check out the numbers it makes perfect sense. In 2014 alone it achieved 16 billion minutes of streams and 100 million unique viewers a month.

On the professional side of things, the top gamers start to look like regular sports people. They train for hours a day in camps, do yoga and weights, and have coaches and dieticians (they even invest in brain mapping training to improve reaction speeds). They have fan clubs, and get growing paid endorsements. In 2013 prize money totalling $25 million was awarded to tournament winners.

There is big money on the business side as well. The Staples Centre in LA sold out for a League of Legends tournament in 2013. Major League Gaming is building an arena in China to run future competitions. And brands like Red Bull are lining up to try and get it on the action.

As technology starts to permeate our lives in increasingly complex ways, the lines between what we consider to be entertainment, competition and ultimately sports is going to keep getting tested. I'm sure I'm going to keep having to argue until I'm blue in the face with Christophe about poker, chess and video games, but in the end, if hundreds of millions of people are tuning in online to watch people essentially press buttons, he's going to have to convince a hell of a lot of people he's right.