Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Explain to me again how watching sports gets you fitter

The broadcast of Heroes of the Dorm on ESPN2 has been generating a bit of controversy.

You'd think that eSports wouldn't generate that much heat, given that the finals were at 9:30 on a Sunday night on ESPN2. Most NBA games were over for the day --Sunday games tend to be shown earlier in the day than on Saturday-- and MLB was on regular ESPN. Without college basketball and the NBA regular season, there's a whole lot of "not much" on Sunday nights on ESPN2.*

But of course, some people had to bitch.

You don't have to watch to get the gist of it. ESPN Radio's Colin Cowherd doesn't like eSports, and he wants you to know that ESPN made a mistake (saying it mildly) by putting Heroes of the Dorm on ESPN2.  Sportsgrid and The Mary Sue both have their own take on Cowherd's rant, but both boil down to the same thing: ESPN also broadcasts the National Spelling Bee, poker games, and eating contests, so saying eSports have no place on ESPN is pretty silly.

Now, the question about whether eSports are "real sports" is quite another thing.

There are games that qualify as sports that make me raise my eyebrows. Bowling, for starters. Golf, for another.** While both are competitive, you don't see people get fit playing either sport. You could make an argument about golf, but the way most people play the game now (using carts) any fitness gained from walking 18 holes has pretty much evaporated.

And auto racing.... Let's not go there.

George Carlin's 1986 clip on sports.
I don't think I need to tell you that he's a bit profane,
and that he says a few things that are more offensive now than
back then.

All of the so-called sports I listed above are tests of skill, but they won't get you fit.

My personal definition of something that is a sport is that it is an athletic physical activity/game that will provide good exercise. Handball, tennis, running, and basketball are all sports. Golf, auto racing, bowling are not.

eSports are not sports by my definition.

That said, eSports are definitely tests of physical skill, just not enough to give you a good workout. If that were the case, my "work" of sitting around and typing at the keyboard all day would qualify as "exercise".*** eSports fall under those other so-called sports (golf, etc.) in that they are all tests of physical skill, but eSports also veer into mental skill territory found with other games (spelling bee, chess, poker, bridge, Scrabble, etc.) that have big championships.

eSports are at that intersection between physical and mental skill that, for some reason, make some people uneasy. Probably because they remember goofing around playing video games and saying "Wouldn't it be cool if you could make money PLAYING these things?" But the reality is, this sort of level of competition turns the game itself into work. LoL teams like Fnatic pretty much work at the game all day, almost every day, and the level of skill involved almost guarantees both burnout and a drop in skill level once pro eSports players hit their mid-late 20s. If you thought the burnout level at the progression raiding guilds was high, you ain't seen nothing yet.


Playing a game (or a sport) isn't the same as watching it.

When you hear people gripe about eSports not belonging on ESPN  because "they're not real sports", my initial response is "What does it matter to you?" After all, does watching basketball make me fit?

Hell no.

It's just people's biases kicking in, and they don't like the fact that video games require a skill that they (likely) don't have. If Colin Cowherd was good enough at LoL, do you think that he'd turn down a boatload of cash to play the game in a pro league?

Again, hell no.

Would ESPN be silly to turn down a chance to get in on the ground floor of something that could become a huge entertainment franchise?

Hell yes.

I'm not a big fan of ESPN, but they've got the right of it this time.

*NHL Hockey is on NBC and NBCSN, the NFL (in the fall) has Sunday night games on NBC, and the European soccer/football league games are long over by the time US prime time rolls around.

**For the record: my grandparents were avid bowlers and loved-loved-loved watching PBA King of Bowling on television back in the 70s/80s/90s; my father is a true golf nut to the point where he used to hit the links with snow on the ground if the weather was warm enough. I grew up watching him putt on the family room in the evenings.

***On second thought, I'd rather not give somebody the idea that maybe I could get exercise by coding. That's kind of a depressing concept.

EtA: Clarified that my dad used to play golf while snow was on the ground.


  1. Well, if you've ever followed a F1 race where they show the pilot's vitals during the drive, you would have seen that it's quite tough on the body. Heart rhythm never goes below 120 during the entire run and climbs to 160 at critical times. The acceleration on turns is so strong that they have to keep very physically fit to be able to handle that. So I would definitely not put it in the same class as golf.....

    1. Oh, I'm quite aware that auto racing is hell on the body, just like how horse racing is hell on the jockeys' bodies, and that's not even taking into effect the threat of heat stroke or heat exhaustion.

      However, I look at auto racing as something that doesn't get you physically fit by itself, but more like something you get physically fit for so that you can survive it. That's a critical difference in my opinion.

  2. I don't really care about eSports (but then, I don't like watching normal sports either), but that rant was hilarious. It basically came down to "ew, nerds".

    1. It would be funny if it weren't for the similarity between his rant and what I heard from the "cool kids" when I was in school.

  3. I think you look at it the wrong way. I mean, you still stick to the harmless examples. You can see Poker, Chess and Billard as "sports". From a physical perspective all the first two train is your ability to sit motionless for longer periods of time. (But the mental challenge of them is very high, quite alike in eSports. )

    The apparent question now is, why are they sports and eSports are not for some people. The answer simply is mental inflexibility. Somebody in earlier times recognized the challenge of those games, how much skill and training matters in them, and established them as sports. So in the minds of everybody they now, after some time has passed, they are sports. In contrast eSports are new. Those who actually see the challenge accept them as sports, those with lower mental flexibility just look at the boxes they think with, don't see it in them yet and thus dismiss it.

    Not much to be fixed here any time soon. The best we can do is to respect the people who have those high skills and let time pass. I am very confident that one or another generation later this whole topic is forgotten and eSports are considered as sports, just as Chess or Poker are.

    1. I don't think chess, poker, and billiards are sports, and to a lot of people they're not sports either. However, that doesn't preclude them from being on ESPN at all, as ESPN does have a history of showing programs that large numbers of people wouldn't necessarily consider sports.

      Once, over a decade ago, I was up late with a sick kid and stumbled on a "bikini contest" on ESPN. I had to check my channel listing a few times to make absolutely sure this WAS ESPN, but yeah, it was.

      Are eSports intense? Yes.

      Are eSports on the rise? Yes.

      Are eSports mentally taxing? Yes.

      Are eSports a competition that involves some manual dexterity? Yes.

      Those four questions alone qualify eSports for inclusion on ESPN; the National Spelling Bee fails on the last question, but it has a long history and ESPN loves competition, so it gets a pass.

      But are these events --Billiards, Chess, Poker, eSports, Spelling Bee, Auto Racing, Horse Racing-- sports? By my definition, no. The closest ones there are auto and horse racing, due to the intense physical grind that the participants are under while participating, but those two have the concept backward: you get fit to participate in auto and horse racing, rather than participating in auto and horse racing getting you fit.

      Were it not for the prior fitness requirement, you could make an argument that combat is a sport: it is a competition for (extremely) high stakes, it involves intense physical and mental activity, it is international in scope, and it definitely is team oriented with winners and losers. If you think about gladiatorial combat, it definitely qualifies as a (very bloody) sport that has its descendents in boxing, MMA/Ultimate fighting, and Karate/Kung Fu events.

      On second thought, I don't really want to think about combat as a sport. There's enough disconnect between the military and what military families go through without having it trivialized in such a way.