Defining The New Breed Of Athlete

If you looked up the definition of an athlete, there wouldn’t be an image beside it. Why? Because athletes come in all shapes and sizes and no single person embodies the term. Every sport is different in its demands, with each requiring its own set of physical and mental challenges, but it’s not just those aspects that define an athlete. We’re in the digital age, where what constitutes a sport isn’t as black and white as it was 20 years ago. Gaming has arrived and with it, the gaming athlete. 

People often say that gamers can’t be athletes; they just sit in front of a TV and press buttons all day! Well, that may be true, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t athletes. If we’re going by the standard definition, an athlete is a person who is proficient in sports and other forms of physical exercise. While gamers may not have the sculpted bodies of track stars or brick houses of NFL offensive linemen, they are still exceptional at their craft, which experiences an inordinate amount of mental strain during gameplay. Especially with strategic games like “League of Legends,” there’s far more that goes into the craft than just pressing buttons.

Gaming requires a high level of hand-eye coordination and the ability to plan ahead and adjust on the fly—much like a baseball player identifying a fastball from a curveball or a quarterback analyzing the defense and changing their play. Like other team sports, it’s communication and chemistry that separate the good from the great. Every player intuitively knows what his or her teammate’s next move will be. When you zig, they zag—no verbal warning necessary. It’s that level of cohesiveness and communication that pervades all team sports—especially when it comes to gaming.

The skill required does not go unrecognized either, as e-sports fans have proven equally passionate about their athletes as baseball or football fans are about theirs. Consider for a moment that the world’s most followed gamer, Syndicate, boasts more than two million followers! He’s more followed than household names like Bryce Harper or Adrian Peterson combined. It’s not a fluke—these gamers are lauded internationally for their ability and deserve every bit of recognition they get. They may not garner the media attention that athletes from more traditional sports do are, but they are more easily followed because of the widespread digital aspect of the sport. 

If you’re still questioning gamers as athletes, let me bring some science into the equation. "The amount of cortisol produced is about the same level as that of a race-car driver," Ingo Froböse, professor at the German Sports University, said. "This is combined with a high pulse, sometimes as high as 160 to 180 beats per minute, which is equivalent to what happens during a very fast run, almost a marathon. That's not to mention the motor skills involved. So in my opinion, e-sports are just as demanding as most other types of sports, if not more demanding," he said.

While gaming may not be demanding from a traditional physical standpoint, there is a tremendous amount of dexterity involved that goes beyond other sports. According to Froböse, gamers achieve up to 400 movements on the keyboard and mouse per minute, four times as much as the average person. That, along with the level of mental involvement makes gaming as strenuous as any other sport from a holistic view. It’s no wonder this is a young person’s game, as years of intense gameplay slows players down. Only for gamers, it’s from carpal tunnel syndrome rather than knee surgery. Fantasy Sports 101:You never draft an NFL running back past age 30, as you wouldn’t draft a 30-year-old gamer to your team. 

If you consider the amount of actual time gamers practice their craft, it goes beyond that of your average athlete. Sure, they’re not running around for hours at a time, but e-sports teams practice together for upwards of eight hours a day—often consecutively. Like any dedicated athlete, that practice is only a piece of the puzzle and there’s a whole other block of time set aside for personal practice. The grind doesn’t stop, and it makes these athletes as mentally tough as, if not tougher than, athletes from any other sport.

I know it’s difficult for many of you to believe in this new paradigm of athlete. Plenty of you have probably played Halo once before and think it can’t be that difficult to pick up gaming if you put in the time. To those people, I say go for it! Prove me wrong and show me just how easy it is to compete with the big boys. I’ll leave this right here for you—I told you so.

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