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Sport Performance vs Esport Performance: Differences and Similarities

The phenomenon of esports is all-pervading, gaining considerable popularity as international championships and their competitive athletes thrill millions of spectators who watch as esports athletes and their teams try to improve and outperform each other.

However, the novice onlooker may struggle to see how esports relate to sports, or wonder if it's even a sport at all -there is a genuine debate on the subject!

In a few hundred words, I will attempt to contribute to this uprising topic, debunk any type of questioning, and distinguish between the nuance of the discourse.

Firstly, the infrastructure of esports can be compared to traditional team-based sports. Professional gamers are getting paid handsomely by sponsors and signed by professional esports organisations and clubs. The existence of player contracts, trade periods, and buyouts are very well-known phenomena in traditional sports. When taking the money involved in esports, there is no surprise that professional sports clubs are increasingly getting involved in esports to extend their recognition.

Convinced yet? Ok, well, let's address what side of the fence you sit on, which may depend on your definition.

Let's get help from our trusted friend, google. After all, it's the digital age.

Google search: "Is esport a real sport……." No, sorry, delete, delete, and delete.

Google: "define sport."

"An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment"; or "an occasion on which people compete in various athletic activities".

On these definitions, people would automatically think of athletes running, jumping, throwing, wrestling, fighting, using objects to manipulate a ball, expressing power, strength, or speed in the confinement of competition. Athletes will also display various degrees of physical, tactical, technical, and psychological preparation in a team-based environment. To get even more specific, it is well known that athletes train for hours and hours per day. You only have to look at 23-time Olympic gold medallist Michael Phelps. During his peak, Phelps swim a minimum of 80,000 meters a week, which is nearly 50 miles. He practised twice a day, for around five to six hours a day for six days a week. (This is not alien across 99.9% of elite athletes). Ask the average person if they think esports gamers work this hard, and you'll probably be laughed out the pub.

Correspondingly, the traditional image of a gamer doesn't seem to match up with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo. You are more likely to picture an overweight, unfit, and unkempt teenager/mid-twenties who looks in their late 30s; Calvin Klein won't be calling any time soon.

And unfortunately, the clichés about gamers will always persist. More so, doubters will say that to be a top esports athlete, you could be, in theory, overweight and unfit. Bob, the overweight police officer who eats doughnuts for breakfast, could conceivably be an esports champion.

But let's get real! First and foremost, let's debunk the stereotype.

I will not pretend I knew all of this before I worked with any esport athletes; I am very quick to say I did not understand the physical and mental toll gamers were putting themselves through. In fact, the truth is I did not even know what an esport athlete was, even after 15 years in professional sport. However, in a short few years, all of that is very different now.

So how is esports like sport?

Well, esports performance is demanding on several levels. It requires different abilities to sustain strenuous tournaments as well as long-lasting, regular daily training sessions. Sound familiar yet?

Similar to Phelps, gamers can spend on average between 3 to 10 hours per day practising, and professional and high levelled gamers are training on average more than 5 hours every day. The majority of this time is spent in a sitting position without taking a break - talk about strength endurance.

Esports is also physically demanding. Especially during stressful tournaments. A recent study on the health of esport athletes found that heart rate can increase to 180 beats per minute; it's almost equivalent to competing in a marathon. Furthermore, the amount of cortisol produced is about the same level as that of an F1 race-car driver. So, before anyone says gaming is not demanding, ask them to drive an F1 race car or run a marathon.

Moreover, esports athletes reach up to 400 clicks or keystrokes per minute during in-game demands, showing augmented manual dexterity, described as "a level of strain... never observed in any other sport." Furthermore, gamers also offer highly complex and coordinated skills and movement patterns to interact with their controlling devices, such as hand-joystick, body-camera or body-force-platform interactions. Therefore, specific perceptual and sensorimotor conditions are vital.

The ability to predict actions and events in a game (anticipation) is critical to game outcomes. The ability to adapt to situations that change rapidly in unexpected situations requires gamers to show rhythmic abilities combined with single movements of fingers, hands, arms, and other body parts.

Even more pronounced in esports are the cognitive challenges. Similar to traditional sports, tactical and mental abilities affect the performance in esports. Strategy games, for example, require the skills of strategic thinking and decision making based on knowledge induced from experience. Therefore, for gamers to perform at the highest levels, they must meet all requirements as effectively as possible, so tactical-cognitive abilities are essential components of esports performance. Similarly, competition induced pressure is another factor gamers must deal with, just like professional sports athletes. Here gamers are exposed to stressful situations and must deal with fluctuations of emotions while staying stable, acting fast, accurately and precisely.

I hope I've managed to convince you that esports deserves to be treated with the same reverence as traditional sports. Or at least made you ask yourself - what side of the fence are you sitting on?


Mark Farrell - Performance Coach

I have over 10 years’ experience in professional sport, working with 6 professional football teams, supported more than 1000 athletes working across 13 different sports. I have a strong passion for performance, but it’s my curiosity that navigates through the world. This passion and curiosity have led me to the phenomenal opportunity to promote health and wellbeing to millions of people worldwide through gaming. But also, to improve the performance levels of Scottish gamers

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