It was a riveting night as panellists discussed the topic of ‘Esports… is it a sport?‘ during the Barbados Olympic Association Inc.’s (BOA) Twitter space discussion recently.
Most of the panellists leaned towards esports being a sport, and though there was some dissension, it was agreed that there is room for esports and traditional sports to co-exist. The panellists were Fallon Forde, Former National Track Athlete and Personal Trainer; Craig Skilling, Director, ITE (Esports) and Assistant Professor, Marketing at Florida Memorial University; Omar Kennedy, Executive Director of AnimeKon; Joshua Lowe, National Basketballer and Barbados Amateur Basketball Association (BABA) E-Basketball Player; Kelan Phillips, National Basketballer and BABA E-Basketball Captain and Damien Best, Sports Journalist. Sports Commentator Alex Jordan moderated the session.
Strong proponent for esports, Executive Director of AnimeKon Omar Kennedy says there is no disputing that esports is a sport. He also noted that the billion-dollar industry is growing at an exponential rate.
Kennedy noted, “Esports requires dedication, training, it requires dexterity, skill, using your hands and your mind to overcome your opponents”.
Kennedy also indicated that several local esports athletes travel to compete and believes that public sensitisation to show that these athletes are not “just wasting time”, will help raise the profile of esports in Barbados.
Sports Journalist Damien Best is not convinced that esports is a sport. He bolstered his position by noting that for some esports, technology and internet speed plays a significant role in players’ success. Moreover, he contended that the preparation level for esports participation is not the same as that required for traditional athletes.
“When I look at the things that athletes have to go through to prepare themselves for what you call the real physical stuff, it’s a stark contrast to what some of the esports athletes will be doing. I am all for anything sports, but I am not completely convinced that it is fully sports. I can see it has its own realm, its own following, and then from my end, how do I convince my audience who I deal with daily, that this is a sport? So we’ve got a long way to go,” he stated.
In response, Craig Skilling, Director, ITE (Esports) and Assistant Professor, Marketing at Florida Memorial University, noted that the regiments for members of the NBA 2K teams are equal to, and sometimes exceed, actual NBA players during the season.
“And the reason why they have to put in so much time, is that their season only spans about three months… If we talk about the various tiers of esports games and titles, you know, tier one versus tier two versus tier three, the level that is going in there as a team, they have an actual coaching staff that goes down the line to the form of player development [and] nutrition. You’d be amazed,” Skilling stated.
The assistant professor added that there are opportunities for persons to be gainfully employed in the esports sector, not just the athletes. Skilling is also confident that Barbados has the opportunity to own the esports space and for young people to get into technology careers.
Weighing in on the topic, Fallon Forde, former national track athlete and personal trainer, said he is on the fence about esports, noting that he appreciated the positions of both Skilling and Best. Forde added that while he has an open mind to esports, there was concern that it would replace physical activity for some.
“Obviously, as an educator, I saw where the benefits of technology came in, especially in COVID. But also as a physical educator, we have children who do not want to get off the couch. They literally just want to exercise their fingers, and chronic diseases are becoming a problem. So can we put them on the same level? Yes, you put in hours of training for esports basketball, do you have the same physical benefits of actual basketball? No one is saying that there is no space for esports, it is here to stay, but the question asked is, is esports a sport, and we can essentially say they’re on the same level? I can’t agree with that… So I will meet them halfway and call them e-athletes,” he stated.
National basketballer and BABA e-basketball captain Kelan Phillips, explained that a lot of practice goes into preparing to play e-basketball, and players still have to know how to play to compete successfully.
“Stamina would affect how your player shoots. So if your stamina is low, then he can’t move as fast. He kind of does the things that would happen in real life, when you are playing basketball. When you are playing a sport in real life and you get tired, you can’t run as fast, you don’t shoot as well. So it does affect the player as close to as real life as you can be, basically for a video game,” Phillips said.
Adding to his comments, fellow national basketballer and BABA e-basketball player Joshua Lowe maintained that esports takes tremendous skill, hand-eye coordination and critical thinking to play.
“I’m of the opinion that if things like chess and darts are sports simply because of the coordination and skill it takes, then esports should definitely be a sport. And as Kelan was saying we have to prepare almost as much, if not, in some cases more than for the physical sport… Someone who plays basketball in real life, and basketball on the game; it is almost identical to the rigorous training you have to go through regarding team building, regarding leadership, regarding building chemistry with the people you are playing with. It has to be a sport because everything that goes into a physical sport, almost every attribute goes into the esports,” Lowe maintained.
The variance between some esports and the Olympic values was another issue aired. It was acknowledged that this area might have to be considered regarding the acceptance of esports by the Olympic body. The Twitter space discussion was one of the activities hosted by the BOA to celebrate Olympic Day this year.