GLOBAL. Valve Corporation, better known for the Half Life and Counterstrike series and their gaming platform Steam, recently released the documentary Free To Play, which followed a group of individuals in their bid to be professional gamers and win the 2011 The International DOTA 2 tournament (which is hosted by Valve). The three featured players, Fear (Clinton Loomis), HYHY (Benedict Lim) and Dendi (Danil Ishutin) explored their motivations for gaming and desire to be professional gamers, and the role that gaming had in their lives and impact on their relationships. It also showed that to be a professional gamer, it takes dedication. The question is then raised once more: is competitive video gaming worthy of being considered a professional sport?

Opinions will be divided on this issue, as with the issue of what sports are eligible to join the Olympics. Based on what was shown in Free To Play, it seems reasonable that competitive gaming could very well be legitimate as a professional sport. These gamers play for long hours, and work together to devise strategies to win each match. Professional teams live and train together. Coaches and team managers take their teams seriously and work to devising unique play strategies. In July 2013, the United States recognized League of Legends professional players as eligible for sporting visas to compete in the US in gaming tournaments. This is the first step in recognizing professional gamers as sportspeople. Reporter Soledad O’Brien in December that year defended eSports as genuine sports because “anything that has a high level dedicated structure, business model, prize money, and an elite competitive level is a sport”.

One of the main problems with attempts to place video gaming within our traditional frameworks of society; such as art, sport, entertainment, addictive behaviour, is that it is very subjective. Parents, teachers and health care professionals worry about video game addiction. Cited by Kuss and Griffiths, Beutel et al. (2011) found that 86% of the patient recommendations in the Clinic for Gaming Addictions in Mainz, Germany, were initiated by mothers of gamers who felt their children and teens were addicted to games. Gaming is a misunderstood concept by non-gamers. Instead of experiencing the draw of a storyline, objectives, discipline and strategy, or social interaction with other players, non-gamers might see too much time spent on the couch or computer chair going through the same motions. Charles Babbage rebutted the common question of why would anyone want to watch someone play a video game with, “nobody seems to think this a sensible point to make against televised football or televised snooker, or chess columns in newspapers”. Not that long ago, someone would have said the same thing about skateboarding, snowboarding, or even Texas hold ’em.

Compared directly to a sport that has a possibility of becoming a profession, such as football, video games seem to happen in the dark. When a child is pushed along the route to professionalism, either by choice or by their parents, there is a clear process to be followed. They need to have some talent, and that talent needs to be recognised by more experienced players or coaches. They need to be showcased in matches, and eventually watched by talent scouts. They should be inducted teams and training programs. They are pushed to practice, to train, to consider the sport as more than a fun activity, but their career. The gamers interviewed in Free To Play had gone down a similar but in game only route. They were part of organised teams, their talents had been recognised and were respected by other players, and they practiced with their team and by themselves. It was clear that all of the players interviewed had considered the validity of their career choice to become professional vis-à-vis the expectations placed upon them by social tradition and their families. At least two gamers came to realise that their gaming was not long-term sustainable by comparison to employment and education. Perhaps if the non-gamers in their lives had understood what the stakes were, they might have offered more support.

Casual gaming may not be a sport any more than chess or playing the piano is considered sport; but I think competitive gaming that involves organisation, dedication, practice, and has the real opportunity to compete should be looked upon as a sport that is worthy of professional leagues and respect from the community.