ESPN boss says eSports is "not a sport"

John Skipper compares growing market to chess and checkers

The rise of eSports may have to continue without the support of the leading sports media network ESPN, after its president, John Skipper, dismissed the idea of calling it a sport at all.

In an interview at the Code/Media conference in New York, Skipper was asked about Amazon's recent acquisition of Twitch. Let's just say that his assessment of eSports is unlikely to sit well with its legion of followers.

"It's not a sport," he said. "it's a competition. Chess is a competition. Checkers is a competition. Mostly, I'm interested in doing real sports."

ESPN has covered eSports events in the past, but the company dismissed rumours that it was planning to make a much bigger commitment due to the performance of the Dota 2 tournament, The International.

Skipper's comment suggests that eSports will remain a fringe concern at the world's biggest sports media network for the foreseeable future.

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Latest comments (17)

Wait for competitor to start broadcasting.
Notice said competitor is raking in teh kashes.
Claim to have always believed in the thing.
(except the way Twitch and YT are going it might already be too late to try and jump on the bandwagon)
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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend7 years ago
"it's a competition. Chess is a competition. Checkers is a competition. Mostly, I'm interested in doing real sports."

He missed the word 'physical' because that's what this is really about. Short sighted fool..... nvm, no loss then as we don't want that kind of person to be involved with E-Sports anyway. Skip away Skipper.
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Neil Young Programmer, Rebellion Developments7 years ago
Depends on the game as well - some would be closer to chess (effectively a mental contest, with the game itself just being an external representation), others would be closer to darts (hand/eye coordination), others are probably closer to motorsports.
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Show all comments (17)
Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.7 years ago
As someone who does all of that (eSports, chess competitions, physical sports), I actually agree with him. It's not a sport, it's a competition. That doesn't devalue what gaming competitions are but it shouldn't be labeled something it isn't. Playing DOTA tournaments doesn't make you an athlete any more than playing Madden makes you an athlete.

eSports is a misnomer. Want to play sports, put the controller down and go outside. Want to be a competitive gamer, pick up the controller and prove your skills. Want to do both, go for it. But we aren't doing both at the same time. Unless Occulus Rift advances far enough to create virtual sports.

Do I think Skipper is making a bad business decision? Certainly. But he's not incorrect regarding the eSports name.
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Thomas Dolby Project Manager / Lead Programmer, Ai Solve7 years ago
I do have to question whether there is a large group of people that watch eSports and also watch ESPN. I find the internet a fitting home for these eSports tournaments. The audience for eSports is naturally accustomed to the watching video content in an online environment and they also show a strong tendency to prefer online streaming to traditional scheduled broadcasting.

This is just an assumption but if ESPN starting showing eSports, I think it would mostly stand to alienate their existing viewers. I don't see a flood of people interested in eSports coming to the channel.
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Neil Young Programmer, Rebellion Developments7 years ago
@Jim - depends on the definition - darts is normally classed as a sport, and the term "motorsports" is fairly universal.

Also, specific to this story, apparently the IOC actually consider chess a sport.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.7 years ago
Neil, the IOC only recognizes the governing body of international chess competitions (Federation Internationale des Echecs). It's basically a formality that recognizing a specific group as the defacto authority for any competitions regarding that event. As I said, I've played competitive chess (regionally, not internationally) so I'm familiar with the organizations. It doesn't accept it as a sports. More specifically, it doesn't have an official stance on it yet. This only signifies that if the IOC were to make further advances into including chess as an Olympic sport, the Federation Internationale des Echecs is the governing body with whom they'd associate with. And if we're classifying actives as a sport by their IOC recognition, the card game bridge and lifesaving/CPR are sports and darts, of any form, is not listed. As for auto requires far more physical activity than people think.

Admittedly, these are largely my personal feelings but I have a personal stake in a lot of them. I don't deny that competitive gaming, being video games, chess, darts, bridge, etc...are widely popular and should be globally recognized as major competitions. But they are not sports competitions, they are gaming competitions. It doesn't devalue what they are.

Skipper is still wrong to not include them in the networks programming. A competition is still a competition. Sport or game. And If MTV can show reality TV shows, ESPN can show gaming competitions.

First paragraph wasn't being displayed due to foreign characters.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Jim Webb on 8th September 2014 5:54pm

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Naseer Alkhouri Smooth Operator, Raw Fury7 years ago
Actually, I am not sure TV is such a good format for e-sports.

I love to watch on youtube, or mostly twitch, because it's on demand and my way. I can participate in chat, or not. I can watch live, I can watch later, I can take a snack in between.

TV seems pretty stiff for e-sports.
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"It's not a biscuit." He said. "It's a snack. Kit Kat is a snack. Jaffa Cake is a snack. Mostly, I'm interested in eating real biscuits."
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Michael Adzijevic Sales Executive, Mecca Electronics7 years ago
I guess Golf is a competition also. But, ESPN covers Golf. Golf IMO is Not s Sport. And what about Sports Fishing?

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Michael Adzijevic on 8th September 2014 7:33pm

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James Berg Games User Researcher 7 years ago
Agreed with Jim and Skipper. I hate the whole term 'eSports', and wish someone had thought of something better way back when it would have mattered. A sport is a physical activity, and unless we're going to see competitive Wii Fit, video games just don't really fit that appellation very well. Doesn't make them any less awesome or interesting, but putting it alongside real-world sports always seemed odd to me.

That being said, I'd probably watch a program that had an actual NHL game going, and then two pro players playing the video game with the same teams between periods ;)
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Peter Warman CEO & Co Founder, Newzoo7 years ago
Mr Skipper is missing the point completely. ESports is the professional tip of an iceberg that might sink his ship. :-) all kidding aside, the fact that every gamer can now broadcast his or her game and set up amateur leagues is the bigger trend that directly cuts into mister Skippers viewer hours. A trend that he should respect and learn from. Consumers want to create and share. ESPN does none of that. Treating eSports as onevof many video content suppliers that he can choose from is exactly why Amazon buys Twitch for $1bn and is not interested in ESPN.
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Patrick Plourde q 7 years ago
I'm baffled at some of the comments here.

eSports is not a Sport, for me its that simple.
Competition is actually a great description!

It's not because Poker plays on ESPN that it makes it a sport. Its a competitive card game. ESPN will play whatever does good rating.

Not being a Sport doesn't make eSports more or less interesting and worthwhile. It won't make them more or less popular.

Other than to facilitate the competitors’ visas (good administrative reason for me), it feels like we're a bunch of nerds that need to compensate for something or in desperate need of aproval - ‘I’m an athlete too, bro!'
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Lewis Pulsipher Game Designer, Author, Teacher 7 years ago
Esports require physical skills, and mental capabilities associated with physical skills. But the skills are fine rather than the gross (as in large, not "nasty") skills of outdoor sports, small movements rather than large, not requiring nearly the same level of endurance. A great many video games are what I call "athleticware" rather than the "brainware" of chess and other tabletop games, but most video games don't have the elements that make for spectator sports, such as the direct competition.

If ESPN said "eSports are not gross-movement physical sports," and "we specialize in the gross-movement sports," they'd make more sense.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 7 years ago
*Yawn* Translation: We can't see people wipe the f*#k out and break a bone for real in "e-sports", so it's not a REAL sport until that actually happens.
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 7 years ago
unless we're going to see competitive Wii Fit,
I was thinking more along the lines of Kinect Sports or Wii Sports. Both of those can get pretty competitive and physical. But I agree that the term "esports" doesn't so easily equate to "sports". However...
So what do you think of the World Series of Poker, televised on ESPN, yearly?
For the life of me I could never understand why so many people watched televised poker tournaments. Just when I thought golf was the most boring thing on tv they start airing poker and it catches on in some bizarre way. That reason alone is why I knew video games could potentially draw huge audiences. Plus they aren't boring to watch, atleast the competitive fps and fighting games aren't. I still miss CGS.
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Shane Sweeney Academic 7 years ago
Technology is just going to continue blurring the lines anyway, I wouldn't put to much effort into clinging to terminology defined well before the invention of electricity as people will probably be betting on the wrong side of history anyway.

Is shooting a gun a sport? Apparently. Is driving a car around a track a sport? Apparently. Both using technologies invented after the word Sport was defined.

Neither are primarily testing the human body - just the skill that it exerts. So what if the gun was controlled using a Game Controller but still physical? What if the car was remotely controlled via a Game controller? The sport would still be testing the same set of skills?

What is sport if it is not a test of skill in a competitive space? I guess you can start carving up between physical things and virtual things like some people do with "Online Friends" vs "Real Friends". Maybe I'm just a child of the Internet but it's all the same to me and the distinction is pretty meaningless.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Shane Sweeney on 15th September 2014 6:53am

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