Professional video gamers: Are they athletes?

Posted by Conor Murphy on August 24, 2012 in Gaming Lifestyle -- Share:

Sprinter in the starting blocksWith the 2012 Olympics concluding just a few weeks ago, many of you may be thinking about tremendous physical prowess and skill. But more than a few people have a different kind of competition in mind – one that pits the best video gamers in the world against each other.

A recent CNN article posed an interesting question: Should professional gamers be considered athletes?

If a table lined with people strenuously playing Hidden Object games seems a little silly, just consider a few things. Gamers often start playing from very early ages and play on a regular basis. You might not think of it as “training” because it’s a fun activity, but imagine putting that kind of time into anything else – it’s going to produce significant results. Besides, some of those hidden objects can be really frustrating! But there are a couple reasons this topic is a hot-button issue.

Some critics claim that video games don’t require the same level of skill as a typical sport does, but just because an activity isn’t physically straining doesn’t mean it doesn’t require talent. Plus, there’s already a precedent for competing in Puzzle games. Just ask any professional chess player!

One of the other issues CNN addressed is addiction. Some critics look at someone who uses the majority of his or her free time to play video games as an addict – a negative image that has hindered the idea that video games could also be a professionally competitive activity. However, playing anything at a highly competitive, professional level is going to take a lot of practice time.

No one usually thinks of professional swimmers and other sports players as addicts, do they? As with most things, the difference between a problem and a healthy activity is the context. Before assuming someone has an addiction because they do a lot of something, it’s important to look at the rest of their lifestyle choices. Are they happy? Do they still participate in other activities? Are they able to support their lifestyle?

Besides, playing video games among the best in the world has its perks…

Pro gaming crowd

Playing Starcraft for money … a lot of money
Some gamers have already reached statuses akin to that of professional athletes, complete with pretty impressive salaries. Need proof? An article from The Globe and Mail highlighted the case of one Canadian gamer who has been recognized as a Starcraft II prodigy and video gaming legend. Chris Loranger, age 22, has entered the ranks of the Starcraft elite. But don’t just take it from us, take it from the G&M, which reported Loranger may be bringing in a six-figure salary.

“At 22, Mr. Loranger is a legend in the professional gaming industry,” the G&M reported.” He’s made a name for himself on an international scene dominated by Asian gamers, and is one of only two North Americans to earn a spot in the Global Starcraft II League’s top 32 bracket, the world’s most competitive pro gaming title.

There are a couple things to take away from that story. First, the fact that there is a Global Starcraft II League at all implies a lot of people are placing their bets on video games as a competitive sport. Secondly, people will find a way to monetize just about anything.

Loranger is part of a team called “Evil Geniuses.” He and the team wake up every morning to practice for three to four hours, according to the article. But it’s not all fun and games (pardon the pun) for one of the world’s top video game teams – playing occurs under the supervision of a top coach, and each player rigorously reviews gaming sessions to see what he or she could have done better.

Starcraft Battle

An education in video games
Ok, maybe you’re still skeptical – this could just be a bunch of video game fanatics trying to make money. But the idea of competitive Starcraft is not a new one. In fact, you can take college courses in it.

The University of California, Berkeley started offering a course in 2009 that teaches the fundamentals of Starcraft gameplay, requiring students to record and study their own playing sessions. The class is now available in online format, but it’s not going to be an easy A. The course description recommends knowledge of Calculus and differential equations, and requires students to thoroughly analyze replay videos to enhance fast-thinking and decision-making skills.

Calculus might be a little more mentally exhausting than you’d like for your recreational activities, but that’s just one example of how perspectives on video games are changing. Plus, if professional gaming does catch on in more places, you’ll be able to cheer for your favorite players and teams… maybe even purchase jerseys!

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Conor is a Marketing Manager with Big Fish, working out of the Seattle office. In his spare time he enjoys watching science documentaries and playing old school adventure games. Get in touch with him on Twitter! or Google+