Sport, e-Sport and Online Fitness

I have a rule when it comes to the definition of what is a sport: if the activity can be comfortably performed in a pair of jeans, then it is not a sport. Running = Sport. Darts = Pastime.

I want to point out that my definition is not intended to denigrate the skill involved in many pastimes; for example Golf is a game requiring a huge amount of skill, but be honest, you can play a round without breaking a sweat.

So now that we’re all agreed on what constitutes a sport, let’s take a quick look at the modern phenomenon of eSports.

eSports are a form of competition using video games. This is different to online video gaming where players compete against in an online arena or world. eSports are organised competitive tournaments with players competing either individually or as teams, for prize money, and events frequently ‘televised’ via online streaming sites. They have proven incredibly popular, audiences for the big events numbering in the millions. The prize money is likewise large, with tens of millions of dollars in prize money being awarded annually, and top players can even be salaried.

Despite the popularity, this author would argue that eSports fail the “is it a sport” test, However these are pastimes that require the development of skills, tactics and teamwork that take months, or even years, or hard work. The skills top players have developed are truly astonishing and their dedication to their craft is easily equal of the top sportsmen and women. I get it, but in my opinion being amazing at DOTA2 does not make you the equivalent of Roger Federer.

Yet I have recently discovered something called Zwift. Zwift is a online cycling simulation where players ride a real bike attached to an indoor trainer that replaces the back wheel of the bike with a computer controlled flywheel. The ‘game’ is an accurate simulation of a range of cycling routes. When a virtual hill begins, the indoor trainer automatically increases resistance applied to the flywheel, thus making it harder to pedal. Add in a group of virtual riders and you can have a decent workout on a bike but without going anywhere. Zwift also offers sophisticated training plans, monitoring for heart rate and power meters, and online competitions that anyone can enter.

It should be pointed out that riding 100 miles on Zwift delivers a serious physical workout, and is part of a wider movement for virtual fitness. Ten years ago apps such as Strava arrived and ‘gamified’ exercise with points, scores and kudos. Zwift, Peloton and other virtual trainers further blur the lines between game and sport by adding online real-time competition.

We now have an e-sport that meets my exacting definition of the term. With Zwift now supporting treadmills and offering virtual runs, who knows where we will be in the next ten years?

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