Out of Left Field: The rise of eSports

Can on-screen athletics be a placeholder for the real thing?

Stadiums, teams, fans, coaches, sponsors, players, practices, and games are not just features of real-world sports, but of eSports as well. With COVID-19 putting athletes’ seasons, like those of our very own Varsity Blues, in jeopardy, digital competitions are providing an opportunity to bring people closer together.

Similar to live sports, eSports — which refers to competitive sports video gaming — test players’ precision and accuracy through physical and tactical challenges. But what makes a sport a sport? Well, it needs to be institutionalized, and it needs to have a broad following around the world.

In 2018, there were nearly 400 million eSports viewers, and according to eMarketer, this number is “expected to surge to roughly 557 million viewers by 2021.” There’s no denying that the popularity of eSports is rising at a rapid pace.

ESports have allowed a much wider range of people to get involved in competitions compared to traditional sports, primarily due to their ease of use and lower physical barriers of entry. The enhanced accessibility of eSports leads to more involvement at the push of a button — literally. That isn’t to say that eSports do not require high levels of skill and many hours of practice and training to get to the top; it’s just easier to get started. 

The tides of popular opinion are shifting, and there now seems to be a place for both eSports and traditional sports to flourish, grow, and push human potential forward. Similar to traditional sports, athletes in eSports get a salary, sponsors, and sometimes even full university scholarships. While the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics will not contain official eSports competitions, people can expect to see digital events organized alongside the Olympic games. 

The Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education at U of T is hosting its very own summer eSports leagues while we continue to practice physical distancing. Participants can play NBA 2K20, FIFA 20, NHL 20, and Madden NFL 20 to quench their competitive thirst in the absence of on-field activities. With three periods of registration — the deadline for the July league is June 18 — anyone can grab a controller and compete. Those interested can register online

Out of Left Field is the Sports section’s newest column. Ever wondered if the university has more to offer than Varsity sports? Out of Left Field will explore the wackiest, weirdest, and most underrated athletic opportunities that U of T has to offer. 

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